A large, lively crowd attended the Arizona Republican Party’s presidential debate viewing party Wednesday night in Scottsdale and concluded, as one man toward the end of the night put it: “The biggest loser tonight is Hillary Clinton because she can’t win against any of these candidates.”
Before the debate, as the predominantly white and older crowd stood in the lobby of the Studio 15 Movie and Grill waiting to get into the theater, few endorsed any one candidate, but many said they would support whomever could beat Clinton.
When asked about their expectations for the evening, everyone interviewed said they had no idea what the night would bring. Some said they knew CNN wanted a combative-style showdown between candidates, and one man told New Times that he hoped Donald Trump and Chris Christie would go at it.
For those who came seeking backhanded political jabs, the second GOP debate didn't disappoint. Despite sitting in dark theater that smelled of chicken fingers, nachos, and beer for more than three hours, the crowd's energy never diminished.
More than a few audience members stood up and cheered when Ted Cruz said he would rip up the Iran deal on his first day in office, and then booed loudly when John Kasich and Rand Paul said diplomacy maybe isn't always an entirely bad thing.
Mike Huckabee’s comment that the candidates on the stage aren't “self-professed socialists . . . or under federal investigation for destroying government documents” got some hearty chuckles, and a few people slapped their knees or let out shrieks of delight when Trump told Paul he didn’t belong on the stage because he’s 11th in the polls.
At the beginning of the night, most in the crowd appeared to enjoy the combative debate — though many later called it "disgusting."
Still, some of the night's more exciting moments occurred when audience members yelled at each other — the most tense being when a woman wearing a hot-pink jacket and holding a toy-size dog went on a tangent about the United Nations and raspy-voiced old men turned around in their seats and told her: “We got it. Now shut up.”
The night's two co-hosts, Robert Graham, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, and Seth Leibsohn, a radio host from 960 the Patriot, were quick to defuse the tension and bring the conversation back to the debate.
“Who has changed their mind [about a candidate] tonight?” Graham asked during the second commercial break.
“I was Ben Carson, now I’m Carly,” one woman said.
“Trump to Cruz” another man chimed in.
“Walker to Cruz,” someone else added.
Graham asked if “Trump has lost any of you for good,” and about six people raised their hands. A recent poll showed that about 30 percent of Arizona Republican voters favor the mogul with no political experience.
During a commercial break, Graham and Leibsohn asked the crowd what they thought of the different contenders after the debate::
“Rand Paul?” A few claps.
“Marco Rubio?” A few more claps.
“Ted Cruz?” Loud applause
“Trump?” A combination of boos and ehs.
“Carly Fiorina?” Thunderous applause and some stomping.
“John Kasich?” A couple claps but mostly resounding boos.
“Mike Huckabee? Same reaction.
“Chris Christie?” Loud applause.
“Carson? Walker?” A few claps.
One man yelled: “What about Jeb?”
The two hosts laughed: “You know what’s funny,” Leibsohn remarked, “a few months ago, we thought Jeb Bush was the inevitable candidate, and now both of us forgot him.”
The room found this hilarious.
The other moment everyone found funny — and which at least a few audience members said was the best line of the night — was when Fiorina gave a quick, “Sorry, Barbara,” after Bush jokingly called out Fiorina for bringing up his pot-smoking past even though he had just said his mother was sorely disappointed in him.
The loudest dismissal of a candidate’s statement came after Paul said the drug wars have a racial element.
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Leibsohn, clearly fuming after Tapper asked about marijuana legalization and climate change, took a break from feverishly pacing a small section of the aisle to tell New Times that he thinks Cruz, Christie, and Fiorina’s popularity grew over the course of the evening while Paul, Kasich, and Trump's tanked.
“I’m for anybody but Rand Paul,” he added when asked about his thoughts.
“Are you guys really happy that they talked about climate change and vaccinations?” Graham asked audience members. Some said there were far more important things to discuss than climate change.
“That’s just liberal CNN trying to derail the conversation,” Graham added.
With so much time left before November 2016, there’s only one important question, Leibsohn said: “Who is the candidate that can beat the Hillary?”