Looking for substance, voters tune in for VP debate


DENVER — It wasn’t the headliners, but some political groupies took time Tuesday to gather and watch the vice presidential candidates debate.

The 90-minute showdown is the only time the two will face off: Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Republican Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana.

The contest was expected to have a much smaller viewership than last week’s first meeting between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which drew a record-setting television audience of 84 million people. But some voters said it was well worth their time.

“One of them will be the second most powerful person in the world … it’s very important to hear what they have to say,” says Carson Clabeaux, 21, a senior at the University of Scranton and president of the school’s Republican club. “I should be studying — but you can always study. There’s only one VP debate, so it was important for me to come see this.”

Here are some of the scenes across the U.S. as people watched the event:


DENVER, Colorado: A small group of students at Regis University, a Jesuit school, debated whether faith and politics should intersect after the vice presidential debate left most still undecided who they’ll vote for.

Both vice presidential candidates are deeply religious, Kaine a Catholic who served as a missionary with the Jesuits in Honduras from 1980 to 1981, and Pence an evangelical Christian who fought against Planned Parenthood funding while in Congress and signed a state law that many people saw as allowing discrimination against gay people.

“Tim Kaine tried to keep faith away from our politics,” said Tim Smith, a freshman focusing on education who plans to vote for the Democratic ticket. “I think he did that. Mike Pence definitely is not that way. He wasn’t really at all about separation of church and state.”

“Religion does say who we are,” countered Chad Deline, a sophomore economics major and head of Regis’ Republican club. “Mike Pence is pro-life, and it showed tonight, and I support that.”

Watch party organizer Daniel P. Justin, who teaches philosophy and religious studies, urged students to reflect on where faith’s place is in this election — and politics in general.

“The question is: How does faith animate and influence your political life?” Justin said.


DES MOINES, Iowa: Organizers for a young professionals group had low expectations on turnout for their bipartisan event at a downtown bar.

“I’ll be happy if we get 20 people,” said Josh Strief, 27, civic chair of the Young Professionals Connection group.

In the end, roughly 30 showed up to watch Kaine and Pence. Some attendees had high expectations for this debate and came away a little disappointed.

Stephen Molitor said he watched the presidential debate last week and thought Trump wasn’t well received because he kept interrupting Clinton. As he watched Tuesday, he thought it was a repeat, but flipped.

“I’m not sure if Kaine interrupting Pence is working for him. I think it’s doing the same thing it did for Trump,” said Molitor, 33, who works in insurance. He said he was leaning toward voting for Clinton, but he could also end up supporting a third-party candidate.

“If I was scoring this right now, I’d call it a draw,” Molitor said.

Kyle Hurst, 27, of Des Moines, said he thought the debate was more amicable than the presidential debate.

“I didn’t know a lot about these two, then I came out and saw them and I was surprised how … much more evenhanded both of them were,” said Hurst, who is leaning toward voting for Clinton after supporting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary. “It felt a lot more like a debate than the last one.”


SCRANTON, Pennsylvania: Though Pence’s mention of Scranton drew cheers, the reaction from a few dozen first-time voters watching the debate at a University of Scranton campus auditorium was otherwise muted.

“They seemed pretty informed,” said Chris Mezzanotte, a freshman studying computer science. Mezzanotte, who initially leaned toward Trump, is planning to vote for Gary Johnson.

The debate Tuesday didn’t change his mind. “They just have to reflect the views of their running mate, so nothing too special at this point,” he said.

Other students also were frustrated by the focus on Trump and Clinton.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing the same thing as the presidential debate,” said Emily Lundeen, a freshman and die-hard Democrat who turned out to learn more about Kaine. “They’re just attacking each other’s candidates.”


GAMBIER, Ohio: Those attending a debate watch party at Kenyon College were handed a “Vice-presidential Debate Bingo” card when they entered the venue, a campus art gallery.

The card featured terms or topics that could be explored at the debate. They included: “Benghazi,” ”Mexico will pay for it” and “ISIS.” The first person who was able to get five across, down or diagonally won a reserved seat to the next debate watch party on campus.

Senior political science major Emily Margolin was the winner. The 21-year-old from New York City noted attendance was markedly down compared with the presidential debate party held in the same location a week earlier.

“It’s the vice presidential debate — literally a less important role,” said Margolin, adding that students have midterms Wednesday before heading out for a four-day fall break that begins on Thursday.

Jess Lane, a Kenyon freshman from Raleigh, North Carolina who supports Clinton, said that while Tuesday’s debate was not as exciting as the presidential one, “I think there’s a lot more substance there for sure.”


TALLAHASSEE, Florida: Hoping to get more answers, Republicans and Democrats attended separate watch parties in Tallahassee.

Will Watson said he supports Trump but went to a Republican-sponsored debate party at a restaurant because it was important for him to hear the views of both sides firsthand.

“You can’t just go off of what your friends tell you because if you don’t see what actually it is, you could be voting for someone you actually don’t agree with,” the 19-year-old said.

But Jaylen Smith said even after watching the two vice presidential candidates he was left with questions.

“The parties are really talking around the questions,” the 21-year-old said while at a Democratic-sponsored party at Florida A&M University. “There really is no clarity.”


Kang reported from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Also contributing: Barbara Rodriguez in Des Moines, Iowa; Mike Householder in Gambier, Ohio; Joe Reedy in Tallahassee, Florida.

By James Anderson and Dake Kang

Associated Press

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