On Wednesday, February 22, the Republican party held their primary debate here in Arizona. I ventured out into deep Mesa to cover the debate, but since I couldn’t actually get into the building, I decided to walk around outside the Mesa Arts Center, where a large, outdoor viewing party was being held. There were plenty of journalists there reporting on the debate, so instead of writing a conventional news story, I decided to record a running diary of my time at the event. Pics are at the end of the post.
5:02 pm – Paul supporters out in full force today.
5:12 pm – Political events have the best people watching.
5:16 pm – About 50 percent of the crowd is vocal Ron Paul supporters. So far I have only seen a small number of people #SpreadingSantorum or showing support for the other two candidates.
5:21 pm – There is a large number of protesters here to support the DREAM Act, a legislative proposal that would provide amnesty for illegal immigrants. For the rest of this piece, I will refer to these protestors as “the DREAM Actors.”
5:25 pm – The city of Mesa hired a band to perform on stage before the debate starts. They’re trying really hard, but no one is listening.
5:40 pm –The DREAM Actors are now marching, while chanting “Sí se puede” and “We’re not afraid.” I have a feeling that immigration is going to be a hot topic at tonight’s debate.
5:45 pm – I just came across some demonstrators imploring the candidates to, “Please free Syria.” Sorry bros, maybe if you guys had more oil …
5:41 pm – There are also a small number of people here to support the #Occupy movement. I wonder if they know that Warner Brothers (a major corporation, man!) gets a cut from every single Guy Fawkes mask they buy.
5:50 pm – Governor Jan Brewer is now on stage getting the folks fired up! #ScorpionsForBreakfast
5:51 pm – “Tonight we will get clear and concise answers from the candidates…” HAHAHA! Good one, J.Brew!
5:53 pm – Arizona Republican Party Chairman Tom Morrissey comes up on stage to ask us if we love our country, and then to lead us through the Pledge of Allegiance. But before we begin, he reminds us that there is no pause between the words “one nation” and “under God.” Thanks for the tip, Tom!
5:55 pm – The MC for the outside crowd instructs us to cheer wildly whenever they point the camera at us. “Get up, cheer, jump around, send gang signs… I mean, no, HAHA, don’t do that!” Are you sure you don’t want to see my gang sings, CNN outside party MC? I want to represent my crew. #westside
6:00 pm – “This is CNN.” LET’S DO THIS.
6:01 pm – THIS DEBATE COULD CHANGE EVERYTHING!!!! At least that’s what CNN says could happen. CNN gives all the candidates a pro-wrestling style intro. Ron Paul’s is by far the lamest.
6:01 pm – During the introductions, Newt gets some polite applause; Romney and Santorum get a few cheers from the crowd outside. Paul has the loudest supporters.
6:04 pm – In the first answer of the debate, Rick Santorum says that he would cut Medicaid and food stamps, but not military spending. But hey, don’t criticize him. Rick is a good Christian man, and I’m pretty sure he’s just following what it says to do in the Gospel.
6:11 pm – Right now, Santorum is getting hammered on his voting record. It must be hard to get elected president after spending many years in Congress. Even the smallest and most routine votes can come back to haunt you.
6:12 pm – People outside keep applauding the comments like the candidates can hear them. Inside the Mesa Arts Center, Newt Gingrich has just informed the crowd that today is the 280th birthday of President George Washington. #historian #knowledgeBombs
6:14 pm – Gingrich’s big stumping point for this debate seems to be energy and gas prices; he has already mentioned it a few times. Also, there is a large man in a chicken suit standing right behind me. I don’t know what he wants.
6:16 pm – The chicken man is standing so close I can feel his breath on the back of my neck. #veryuncomfortable
6:17 pm – Ron Paul continues to get the loudest cheers. He tells the audience that we need to stop all foreign aid because it is a waste of money and it helps our enemies. But what about programs like the Peace Corps, or emergency food/medical services? That might make a good follow-up question, John King.
6:21 pm– Romney is bragging about deporting illegal immigrants while he was Governor of Massachusetts. The DREAM Actors protesting outside do not like this. Also, I have to wonder why the moderators allow the crowd inside the Mesa Arts Center to cheer/applaud during the debate. This has happened at every single Republican debate. It makes the candidates to pander to the crowd and it wastes time.
6:37 pm – Wow, a good follow-up question about the managed bankruptcies and the auto industry by John King. See I knew you had it in you! Still, I’m pretty disappointed with the types of questions I’ve been hearing throughout the Republican Primary. <rant> It seems like the reporters/journalists are covering the campaign like it’s a horse race; they’re not concerned with the actual issues. The news media is only searching for buzz-worthy, marketable, thirty-second soundbites; they let the presidential candidates spout of the same talking points, over and over again, unchallenged. No one ever asks the candidates about how that will actually make their plans happen, or speculates about the possible ramifications if the Republicans succeed </rant>.
6:42 pm – We’re still on the topic of the auto bailouts. Ron Paul is insisting that politicians shouldn’t meddle in corporate bankruptcies, because they can’t figure that kind of stuff out. Are politicians stupid? Does that mean we should start electing smarter people?
6:50 pm – All the Republican challengers seem to agree that President Obama has launched a vicious attack on religious freedoms in America (via contraception). Is Obama the next Maximilien Robespierre? #reignofterror
7:03 pm – Santorum and Romney keep blaming each other for causing Obamacare. Santorum says that Obamacare was based on Romney’s state healthcare plan in Massachusetts, while Mitt claims that Obama’s bill never would have passed through Congress if Santorum hadn’t indorsed Senator Arlen Spector (who voted for the bill after he was re-elected). Which Republican presidential candidate do you think deserves the credit for overhauling the American healthcare system?
7:04 pm – The crowd outside lustily boos Maricopa County Sherriff Joe Arpaio when he is introduced during the debate. They must have had a bad experience at tent city or something.
7:13 pm – Newt Gingrich loves Ronald Reagan. He loves Ronald Reagan more than you ever could. He wants you to know that.
7:14 pm – During commercial breaks, the CNN crew keeps asking us to cheer when they put us up on the big screen. Why do they need our cheers so badly? Are they terribly insecure, to the point where they need constant reassurance that they are doing a good job?
7:20 pm –The DREAM Actors and Ron Paul supporters have crowded around the CNN cameras. Their signs are partially obscuring the big screen, which is angering other people in the crowd.
7:26 pm – We are now on the topic of Iran and nuclear weapons. If you listen, you can hear the drums of war beginning to beat. This is getting the Ron Paul supporters and traditional Republicans fired up, but for very different reasons.
7:31 pm – You can tell people are into the debate when they loudly muttering their own personal commentary. It isn’t the least bit annoying. #sarcasm
7:47 pm – During the last commercial break, two men start chanting Romney’s name. No one else joins in and they quickly stop.
7:52 pm – Gingrich and Romney refuse to answer John King’s final question. They instead use the time for a closing argument about why they should be president. When John King tries to protest, Romney slaps him back down #WHO’SYOURDADDY
7:55 pm – It’s over. Time to get out of here.
Final Take: During the debate, new frontrunner Rick Santorum boxed himself in by pointing out that he voted for large bills and packages that he didn’t believe in, such as Title X, which is not popular among the Republican electorate. He portrays himself as a principled Washington outsider, but by admitting and trying to defend the fact that he played the political game, Santorum lost a lot of his credibility. Honesty gets you nowhere in these debates. I expect Mitt Romney will get a boost over the next several days.
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