Local College Enthusiasts Gather to Watch 2016 Presidential Debate

Local College Enthusiasts Gather to Watch 2016 Presidential Debate

Trump supporters applaud during the Crest Theatre's debate viewing party at the Crest Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif. on Monday, Sept 26, 2016. The audio and video were not syncronized, making for an odd viewing experience. (Andrew Aono)
Trump supporters applaud during the Crest Theatre's debate viewing party at the Crest Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif. on Monday, Sept 26, 2016. The audio and video were not syncronized, making for an odd viewing experience. (Andrew Aono)

Trump supporters applaud during the Crest Theatre's debate viewing party at the Crest Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif. on Monday, Sept 26, 2016. The audio and video were not syncronized, making for an odd viewing experience. (Andrew Aono)

Photo by: Andrew Aono

A  standing-room only audience of more than 300 people gathered at the historic Crest Theater in Westwood Monday night to watch the first Presidential Debate of the 2016 election. The battle between former reality star and businessman Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton drew an estimated 81.4 million viewers across 11 networks, making it the most viewed debate of all-time, according to The Associated Press.

“I’m looking to see some more solidified positions with the candidates. I’m very interested in seeing their specific policy positions, and I want to see some healthy discourse,” said Kenya Parham, an independent political strategist and fundraiser. “I want to see something that makes me proud of the American electorate. No garbage.”

Both the UCLA Bruin Democrats and Bruin Republicans were in the house for the event which included a pre-debate discussion and a live in-house debate streamed on Facebook Live.

“I went on Google and I searched for UCLA political groups,” said the Crest’s General Manager Dana Morris, “and I just sent random emails to them and they started responding and it just snowballed.” Morris is tall, friendly, and clearly multitasking as more audience members and news reporters enter the lobby. His blond hair is a little disheveled and his eyes dart around the lobby as he adjusts an earpiece and continues. “So then we started publicizing it and then the media started following the attention. So now we have CNN, ABC, NBC… the Hollywood Reporter is doing a live telecast. So it just snowballed."

A woman uses her computer to watch the presidential debate at the Crest Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif. on Monday, Sept 26, 2016. The Crest Theatre held a debate viewing party for the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (Andrew Aono)
A woman uses her computer to watch the presidential debate at the Crest Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif. on Monday, Sept 26, 2016. The Crest Theatre held a debate viewing party for the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (Andrew Aono)

A woman uses her computer to watch the presidential debate at the Crest Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif. on Monday, Sept 26, 2016. The Crest Theatre held a debate viewing party for the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (Andrew Aono)

                            Photo by: Andrew Aono

An hour before the debate was scheduled to begin, as air temperatures on the Westside hovered around an unusual and oppressive 95 degrees, the Crest’s uncomfortably warm Art Deco themed lobby grew busy with the arrival of an energized crowd. Students with backpacks and adults dressed in business attire streamed into the theater. Some gathered with friends before going inside to find seats, while others joined a long concession stand line to buy pretzels, popcorn, gummy bears, and large bottles of chilled water to fight off the heat during the impending televised spectacle.

A voter registration table staffed by three lemon yellow t-shirted members of the group Bruins Vote sat a few steps from the snack bar. “Our goal is to register 15,000 before November, which is unprecedented,” said Carolyn Stevens, an Environmental Science major at UCLA. “I believe we’re a third of the way there.”

Inside the theater a large section of polished wooden picnic tables and benches were filled to capacity. Two rows of slatted-backed chairs on each side of the theater were also completely filled as some audience members rested purses on seats or placed their hands on chairs and waited for late arrivals stuck in LA traffic.

“Let’s get ready to ruuuuuummble!,” shouted an event host into a microphone, shortly before the crowd was prompted to applaud their favorite candidate. Then images of CNN’s debate feed filled the Crest’s expansive movie screen. The vibe was electric. But unfortunately, it was stifled by the venue’s audio problems which persisted throughout the broadcast.

For about one minute the audience saw video of the debate without any audio, making it impossible to hear the first question from the moderator, Lester Holt. For the entirety of the broadcast, the audio stream was 85 seconds ahead of the video on screen, making it a trippy viewing experience. Sudden, unexpected drops in volume further annoyed the crowd as the debate continued.

People began to murmur in low tones of displeasure with every new snafu. Then several drop-outs of audio while both Clinton and Trump were responding to questions prompted some to leave. But, because of the large number of people occupying the standing-room areas around the perimeter of the theater, empty seats were quickly filled. However, several minutes later a total drop-out of Clinton’s response to a question about police and race relations in America was the last straw for many audience members. Unable to hear the candidate’s responses yet again, they gathered their belongings and left the theater. Many other’s however, stayed for the duration of the televised debate and the live discussion that followed.

A man in patriotic clothing watches the presidential debate at the Crest Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif. on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. The Crest Theatre held a viewing party for the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (Andrew Aono)
A man in patriotic clothing watches the presidential debate at the Crest Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif. on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. The Crest Theatre held a viewing party for the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (Andrew Aono)

A man in patriotic clothing watches the presidential debate at the Crest Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif. on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. The Crest Theatre held a viewing party for the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (Andrew Aono)

Photo by: Andrew Aono

Michael Bezoian, both a senior at UCLA and senior editor of the Millenial Review, toughed it out and stayed until the end. Bezoian was standing outside of the theater at the debate’s conclusion with Hailey Nieves, a junior at UCLA. Each wore “Make America Great Again” baseball caps. Bezoian said, “I think the first 30 minutes of the debate was easily a Trump victory. With regards to the last 60 minutes, I think Trump strayed off message. I think that harmed him. I wish he’d stayed on message cause there’s just so much subject matter with which Trump can attack Clinton on. I think that Hillary Clinton has to be kept as far away from the White House as possible just because of how negligent she was with our national security.”

Others had a different view, including Anna Alves, a Ph.D. student in American Studies at Rutgers University. “It was really interesting. It was obvious to me that Trump didn’t have much stamina and he really was here for the entertainment part of it,” said Alves,“and I actually thought that the Secretary did well in trying to keep it to the point without losing her dignity, appearing a little bit more warm.”

Gathering tote bags and empty clamshells that had held the dinner she’d eaten during the debate Alves added, “In hearing it, I would think that she won in terms of points and logic and rationality. But,um…you just don’t know with the kind of electorate that’s out there right now what’s going to happen.”

Unlike Bezoian and Nieves another Trump supporter, who wore a gigantic plastic Trump head in the lobby, didn’t want to talk about the debate. Emerging from the lobby’s powder room after removing the likeness of the nominee on her head, she flatly says, “I work in the (entertainment) industry. I don’t want to get blackballed,” before turning away.

Polls conducted just before Monday night’s debate found that the race is too close to call. There are just 42 days to go.

Judy Black, a health policy analyst, says she knows that many young people are not on Team Clinton. Standing in the lobby of the Crest she makes an appeal.

“I understand that people who really believed in Bernie Sanders would like to vote on principle. I understand that. And I know it feels crappy to be choosing what people see as ‘the lesser of two evils,’" Black said. "But, the disaster that would be a Trump administration would be so horrible that staying home or voting for a third party candidate would be so destructive cause this race is so close. Being an idealist, unfortunately, is a luxury.”