Saturday night’s debate on ABC was watched by more than 13 million viewers, not as high as some earlier debates, but higher than the last two Republican debates aired on Fox Business News Channel and Fox News Channel, which both aired on weeknights when TV viewing is higher.
Twelve of those were area Republicans who watched in our WTVO facility, and early on, Donald Trump got their attention by calling attention to who was in the audience.
“And by the way, we wanted tickets, we couldn’t get them!” Trump exclaimed at one point over a smattering of boos. “And you know who has the tickets, and I’m talking to the television audience, donors, special interests, the people who are putting up the money. That’s what it is.”
It was a typical Trump moment for some in our focus group, revealing the behind the scenes party actions involving ‘insiders’ that many Republican voters detest. But some also thought it was a diversion from a topic that hurts Trump with some conservatives, eminent domain, the taking of private land for fair value (or more) by the government.
“Eminent domain is an absolute necessity for our country. For any country,” he told the crowd.
He and Jeb Bush then got into a testy exchange, with Bush saying, “But want Donald Trump did was use Eminent domain to try to take the property of an elderly woman on the strip in Atlantic City. That is not public purpose.”
Some members of our local focus group agreed. “(Trump) was talking about public vs. private eminent domain,” Republican voter Julie Collins told ‘Eyewitness News’ anchor Nick Toma. “I would worry that he would abuse the private domain.”
Senator Marco Rubio was criticized by pundits after the debate for repeating the same message over and over again about President Obama being calculating and ‘knowing exactly what he was doing’ in enacting policies to change America.
Some in our focus group agree with the message, but local Republican Pam Connell did not appreciate the frequent repetition of it during the debate. “Well Rubio just keeps bringing up the same thing over and over again,” she said. “He just keeps brining up Obama. It’s just he same statement. It does appear he doesn’t have enough experience because he doesn’t know what to say.”
Rubio did get praise for his foreign policy answers. Our focus group also thought Ben Carson didn’t get enough questions, and when he did, he was too reserved, while the Governors got too much time.
Republican Jeremy Ramsey told us, “I think Bush won. I’m not happy about that, I think the media covered too much of Kasich and Bush and Christie.”
In the end, our group felt the Senators answered the foreign policy questions well, the Governors the domestic ones. “I don’t think there was a clear winner tonight because everyone brought their strengths to the debate,” concluded Stateline Republican Mike Williams.
And our final poll of the twelve reflected that sentiment.
Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz got four votes each. Gov. John Kasich got two. Trump and Carson received one each. Gov. Chris Christie was generally praised by his debate performance, but no one believed he won it. Rubio did not have a strong debate performance according to our focus group.