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Local voters say first presidential debate devoid of substance, contained little to change minds

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — “Cringeworthy,” “unruly disaster” and “regrettable” were a few words locals used to characterize the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, which aired Tuesday night.

Locals responded to an online Salisbury Post survey to share their thoughts following the first presidential debate, which was moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. The majority of respondents expressed embarrassment and frustration with the debate, noting that little substance and policy was discussed and that it, overall, did not change voters’ minds for whom they plan to cast a vote.

“I’m concerned for our country, even more after watching the debate,” said Janet Keys, a voter from Salisbury who identified as politically independent. “Neither handled themselves in a way that gives me hope. Both liked hearing themselves talk more than getting the message across.”

Darlene Young, a moderate from Spencer, said the debate was “by and large, unproductive” and filled with cheap insults and infantile statements from Trump.

Though much of the debate was characterized by interruptions and name-calling among the candidates, discussions centered on several topics, including the Supreme Court, COVID-19 response, the economy, Trump’s tax returns, race and violence, climate change and election integrity. Here’s where the candidates stood on these issues:

• Supreme Court — Trump doubled down on his decision to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the vacant Supreme Court seat, adding that his term of four full years allows him the ability to do so. Former Vice President Joe Biden said a new justice confirmation should wait until after the election since voting has already begun in several states. Biden also pointed to Barrett’s previous comments regarding the Affordable Care Act, expressing concern about the potential for a conservative-majority SCOTUS to dismantle the law amid the pandemic.

• COVID-19 — The two candidates sparred over how soon a vaccine could become available to Americans, with Trump saying it will be available soon and Biden stating it wouldn’t be until next year that it could be created and distributed.

• Economy — While Trump praised an economy that’s coming back “incredibly well” from the pandemic shutdown, Biden said the economy can’t be fixed until the virus is mitigated. Biden added that while millionaires and billionaires like Trump have done well, the economy wasn’t working right now for “all the small towns and working class towns in America.”

• Trump’s tax returns — Wallace asked about a report from the New York Times over the weekend that states Trump’s tax records show he only paid $750 in income taxes in both 2016 and 2017. Trump said he paid “millions” but declined to show any proof while under audit.

• Race and violence — When Wallace asked Trump directly to condemn white supremacy and militia groups, Trump instead told a far-right group associated with violent protests, called Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand down.” On Wednesday, Trump followed up his comments by saying he didn’t know who the Proud Boys were. Biden condemned violence amid racial injustice protests, and countered Trump by saying Trump’s “own FBI director said the threat comes from white supremacists,” and that “Antifa is an idea, not an organization” or militia. Trump also doubled-down on his remarks about ending racial sensitivity training in federal agencies “because it’s racist.” Trump challenged Biden to name a law enforcement organization who had endorsed him and credited himself with receiving numerous endorsements from multiple law enforcement agencies.

• Climate change — Trump said humans are responsible for climate change to an extent and cited poor forest management for the wildfires currently raging across the West Coast. He expressed support for electric cars, and defended his decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement. Biden said, if elected, America would rejoin the agreement, and that he’d work toward a carbon-neutral nation by 2035.

• Election integrity — Due to the increased number of mail-in ballots this year, Wallace reiterated it may be weeks before the election is officially called. He asked both candidates if they’ll request their voting base remain calm as the election results trickle in after Nov. 3. Biden urged people to establish a voting plan with whatever works best for them. Trump cited fraud among mail-in ballots in Democratic-run cities and states, while Biden reiterated that evidence shows voter fraud is extremely rare.

Steve Albanese, of Salisbury, said Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacists and his call for his supports to watch what’s going on at polling locations was “a clear call to intimidate and suppress votes.”

Young said Trump didn’t clarify his policy issues and Biden wasn’t able to fully articulate his ideas either.

“Spectacle on a global stage,” Young said.

Name-calling and interrupting characterized much of the debate Tuesday night, however. Trump said “there’s nothing smart about” Biden and hurled personal insults at Biden’s sons. Early in the debate, Biden told Trump to “shut up, man,” called Trump a clown and “the worst president America has ever had.”

Andy Bollenbacker, a Republican from Salisbury, said Biden had no respect for the current president and that he couldn’t remember his numbers.

Rebecca Carlton, a Libertarian from East Spencer, criticized Wallace for giving “Sleepy Joe” more time to speak and less time for Trump.

“Donald J. Trump has done (more) for the American people, especially for low-income families than Joe has ever done in all the 40-something years he has been in office,” Carlton said. “I always voted (Democrat), but not this time!! This first debate makes me want to vote red even more now than ever.”

Shane Peoples, a Democrat from China Grove, said the debate was “nothing but a schoolyard bully doing bully things,” referring to Trump.

“Trump rarely answered a question, and when he did, it was full of lies,” Peoples said. “Biden didn’t lie, but only because he was interrupted and didn’t have a chance. Chris Wallace didn’t stand a chance. Wish he had a mute button.”

Pat Hargraves, a Democrat from China Grove, called the debate “shameful, embarrassing, difficult to watch,” but noted that Biden held it together more than Trump, who she said gave Americans nothing of substance.

Salisbury City Council member David Post said the debate performance was regrettable for the entire country.

Bonnie Harrell, a Salisbury voter who described herself as political independent, said Trump’s tweets came to life on Tuesday night and that she thought he looked like a bully. Harrell added that Biden expressed plans to help the country when Trump allowed him to talk. Harrell praised Biden for talking directly to the American people.

“What happened to our Republicans? The party of John McCain,” Harrell questioned. “The only thing Trump is trying to ‘conserve’ is his power.”

Several locals expressed the debate did little, if anything, to change voters’ minds for whom they will cast their vote.

Jennifer Doering, a Salisbury voter who described herself as political independent, said she already knows who she’ll vote for and that the debate didn’t change anyone’s minds.

“It was very concerning to see how many interruptions were going on,” she said. “I felt sorry for Chris Wallace, who kept trying to bring some semblance of order to this debate.”

Wayne Bostian Jr., a Republican from Rockwell, said the debate needed a better, more respectful and energetic moderator.

“Trump is my guy no matter what,” he said. “Nothing will change my mind for our President Trump! Vote in person. Vote red.”

Tuesday’s debate was the first of three. The next debate will be between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee Kamala Harris. It’s scheduled for Wednesday. Trump and Biden will debate in Miami on Oct. 15, and again in Nashville on Oct. 22.

On Wednesday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced it plans to change the debate format following frequent interruptions throughout.

“It was just a big, you said, he said, chaotic mess,” Keys said. “Lord help us. We need you down here.”

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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