Members of the University of Miami community packed the BankUnited Center Fieldhouse for 2016’s first and arguably one of the most highly-anticipated presidential debates in American politics.
Radio station 610 WIOD hosted live with professor Fernand Amandi from a platform at the front of the room, which was mostly dark except for side walls saturated with red and blue light. The partisan color scheme was not reflected in the crowd, however, when attendees voted on who would win the debate ahead of the start of the program.
Clinton won with 76 percent of the audience vote. Her supporters were vocal throughout the debate – cheering when she made strong proclamations and policy statements, and laughing when she rolled her eyes at Trump’s jeers – though the pro-Trump crowd was just as engaged.
This is what students had to say before the debate:
Ali Galetti, a senior majoring in political science and economics, is an American-born citizen but spent most of her life overseas. She started at UM as an international student from Brussels, Belgium. She said she plans on registering to vote in Florida on Sept. 27, National Voter Registration Day.
“I focus on foreign policy. That’s really what I’ve been listening in on. For me, it’s ‘What are they saying about how the U.S. is going to act with the world?’ particularly with China and the Middle East,” she said.
Miguel Hernández, a sophomore majoring in public health and political science, attended the watch party because he is enrolled in the Election 2016 course. He said being born in Communist Cuba and moving to the United States when he was two years old helped shape his interest in politics.
“I’ve learned from past experiences and from my family that political participation is so important,” he said. “Everyone should participate in government because we’re all living in it.”
Hernández said he was expecting “dirty laundry everywhere” during the debate, but his mind was set on voting for Clinton because her views aligned with his as a liberal.
“Nothing is really going to swing my vote tonight,” he said.
Sara-Teresa Pelaez, a freshman political science major, is also in the Election 2016 class. Pelaez said the class has been a very unique and beneficial experience. She said she got an internship with Congressman Joe García after he visited the class earlier this month.
“Not only are we learning, but it’s really giving us networking opportunities and opportunities for growth as political science students,” she said.
Pelaez will vote in a presidential election for the first time in her life on Nov. 8, and it will be a rare opportunity to have a lasting impact on America, she said.
“This is probably one of the most interesting elections that we’re going to see in our lifetimes and we’re here, in a swing state in a swing district. That is amazing,” she said. “We are in the correct time and place to actually have a voice and for our voices to be heard. How rare is that for college students?”
For Pelaez, who is registered Independent, this means voting for Clinton because she could be a “decent” president as opposed to the other option of Trump.
“We have someone who is unstable and who is amoral. And who is possibly a narcissist, and I mean that in the clinical sense,” she said. “There is no equivalency here. I am voting for Hillary Clinton because there is no other option.”
Pelaez said she was not disappointed with her candidate’s performance in the debate, although she had been initially nervous that Clinton would not hold her own against the giant persona of Trump.
“… She proved me entirely wrong. She came correcting. She came so prepared. She did not let him get away with anything. But at the same time, she never lost that respectability, composure and professionalism that I think really makes her a viable presidential candidate,” she said.
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