Over 30 students attended a debate party organized by Rice Students for Bernie on Tuesday night to watch the first Democratic debate of the 2016 presidential campaign.
On stage were Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator and self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. Clinton has been slipping in the polls to Sanders since Sanders announced his candidacy in April, but still holds a considerable lead for the Democratic primary.
Also on the stage were former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Senator and governor Lincoln Chafee and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, all of whom are polling at less than one percent, according to a Pew Research Center poll.
According to Rice Students For Bernie President Alex Amari, O’Malley performed the strongest out of the underdog candidates.
“I don’t think it was a breakthrough performance for either [Chafee or Webb], whereas O’Malley probably had the most to gain from tonight because he’s in a position where people know him,” Amari, a Jones College sophomore, said. “I think he did a great job and I would not be surprised at all if he was selected for vice president.”
Lovett College junior Bridget Schilling noted the difference tones of the Democratic debate and the two Republican debates of the 2016 campaign.
“I thought there was a lot more solidarity between candidates,” Schilling said. “They were talking about what their stances on the issues were, as opposed to attacking each other.”
The candidates debated both foreign and domestic policy topics during the 2.5-hour debate, covering topics like income and racial inequality. Other topics included the use of military force, national security, tax reform, mass incarceration and gun control.
As of Tuesday night, Duncan College freshman Maurice Frediere said he had not decided if he will support Sanders or Clinton, but said that Sanders’ stance on gun control was weak compared to some of the other candidates.
“Sanders was not as strong of a debater I hoped he would be,” Frediere said. “He was hit with some good shots from O’Malley and Clinton on guns. He just didn’t have as strong a policy laid out as either O’Malley or Clinton did.”
But for other students, the debate cemented their opinions of the candidates.
Jones College sophomore Simone Holmes said Sander’s passionate performance during the debate bolstered her support for him.
“The debate strengthened my convictions as I was able to hear Sanders advocate or defend his stances,” Holmes said. “He compellingly promoted free college tuition [at public colleges], fighting institutional racism and improving environmental quality.”
Wiess College sophomore Alex Bergin-Newman said she was undecided between Sanders and Clinton prior to the debate, but that Clinton’s performance in the debate eventually won her over.
“The pressure of the debate seemed to be getting to [Sanders],” Bergin-Newman said. “That raised some serious concerns for me about how he would be able to handle the pressure of a presidency when the pressure of a debate was too much.”
Amari said increasing interest in politics at Rice is an essential part of Rice Students For Bernie’s mission.
“[One of the goals of the watch party] was to get people interested in politics and have people coming out and talking about the debate, and it was great to see that tonight,” Amari said. “I feel like I learned a lot tonight from talking to other people there, and apart from supporting Bernie, that is really our goal here.”