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Illini Democrats and Republicans watch, reflect on presidential debate

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Illini Democrats and Republicans watch, reflect on presidential debate

A student, part of the Illini Republicans Club, holds up a handmade sign supporting Trump at a debate watch party.

A student, part of the Illini Republicans Club, holds up a handmade sign supporting Trump at a debate watch party.

Lily Katz

A student, part of the Illini Republicans Club, holds up a handmade sign supporting Trump at a debate watch party.

Lily Katz

Lily Katz

A student, part of the Illini Republicans Club, holds up a handmade sign supporting Trump at a debate watch party.

By Jessica Bursztynsky, Contributing Writer

Illinois students from across the political spectrum came together at Lincoln Hall on Monday night to watch the first installment of the United States presidential election debates.

The event, hosted by Illini Democrats, Illini Republicans and the League of Women Voters, packed the lecture room with students interested in either learning more about the candidates, or strengthening their current views.

“The event started (with) 30, maybe 40, people (wanting) to come,” says Rose Rodriguez, an executive board member of Illini Democrats. “It really mushroomed into over 1,500 people on Facebook. I was pleasantly surprised on the turnout.”

The organizers ended up opening an overflow room, as the original viewing location filled up about 30 minutes before the debate started.  Rodriguez says she was glad to see a large amount of students being politically active and aware on campus, regardless of political affiliation.

The debate watch party was the first time both the Illini Democrats and Illini Republicans have co-hosted a political event. The organizations began discussing their plans to bring students together last semester, according to Illini Republicans President Chris Piper.

In the moments before the debate, some students waved pro-Trump signs, some grabbed plates of the complimentary-catered Panda Express and some red-faced students took their last few swigs of the drinks they brought.

Others came merely as a way to get out on a Monday night, tagging along with friends or their student organizations.

“It beats sitting in my dorm and watching it alone, it’s always fun to be around other people, of same opinions and different opinions,” said Max Weiss, a LAS freshman who attended with members of the Model U.N. club. “I’m really glad people are taking it seriously, I mean this is the future of our country. It’s good that we’re out here engaging in the political process.”

The crowd, a seemingly equal blend of Clinton and Trump supporters, drew mixed reactions during the debate. There were loud cheers from the audience, as well as few negative comments from opposers, when both candidates gave popular remarks.

After the debate, a few students lingered to voice their opinions and engage in small, personal debates before heading out.

“We had a very good crowd who were engaged in the issues,” said Rahul Raju, a junior in Engineering. “Even though I have people I disagree with, the thing is at the end of the debate, I can have a good conversation with them. I think there were times Trump did well and times Clinton did well.”

Some students in the audience were attending for both entertainment purposes and affirmation, as they have already determined which candidate they will be supporting for president.

“I just want to watch the debate,” Mark Hall, sophomore in AHS, said. “This is monumental, it’s the first potential female president versus, I mean, Donald Trump. I mean it’s going to be a crazy election, it’s wild.”

Hall, a registered Republican, says the night’s debate will not influence him when it comes to the elections on Nov. 8.

The debate did not have an apparent effect on some audience members; for others, it made their current viewpoints even stronger.

“I care a lot about the American democracy,” said Justin Tomczyk, a LAS senior. “[The debate] really exposed Trump for the fraud he is and came across as. I’m definitely full on for Hillary 100 percent right now.”

Aside from the bi-partisan voters, there were a few audience members in favor of Gary Johnson, an independent candidate, with some offering Johnson bumper stickers.

“I’m just trying to see who the better candidate is,” said Debbie Bernal, a junior in AHS. Bernal’s first choice is Johnson, but is still open to other candidates. “It’s probably going to be Trump,” she adds.

Regardless of clashing political opinions, students were able to peacefully assemble and engage in a central part of the democratic process.

“I think that this debate, this election is critical,” Raju said. “The people that came out here and sat down and watched the debate were part of history tonight.”

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