July 17, 2024

The Health

Your health, your choice

Debate-watchers agree: Biden had a bad night

WASHINGTON (AP) — “Oh, Joe.”

That gasp, from patrons at a Chicago bar when President Joe Biden first stumbled verbally in his debate with Donald Trump, spoke for a lot of Americans on Thursday night.

In watch parties, bars, a bowling alley and other venues where people across the country gathered to tune in, Trump supporters, happily, and Biden supporters, in their angst if not dread, seemed to largely agree they had witnessed a lopsided showdown.

By the end of the 90-plus minutes, some Democrats were saying what partisans say to put the best face on things: It’s still early. One debate doesn’t necessarily sway the nation. Judge him by what he’s done and wants to do, not by how he says things.

But many were let down.

The latest on the Biden-Trump debate

  • The debate was a critical moment in Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s presidential rematch to make their cases before a national television audience.
  • Take a look at the facts around false and misleading claims frequently made by the two candidates.
  • Both candidates wasted no time sparring over policy during their 90-minute faceoff. These are the takeaways.

Biden “just didn’t have the spark that we needed tonight,” Rosemarie DeAngelus, a Democrat from South Portland, Maine, said from her watch party at Broadway Bowl. Trump, she said, showed “more spunk or more vigor” even if, in her view, he was telling a pack of lies.

Fellow Biden supporter and bowling alley attendee Lynn Miller, from nearby Old Orchard Beach, said: “It’s like somebody gave Trump an Adderall and I don’t think they gave Joe one.” (The drug is used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.)


Lynn Miller shouts at the TV after a comment by Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump during the presidential debate with President Joe Biden, during a watch party at Broadway Bowl, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in South Portland, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

“I’ve never seen Trump seem so coherent,” Miller said. “And I hate to say this, but Joe seemed a little bit off. But I still support him over Trump because Trump lied about every single thing that happened.”

Trump supporters certainly agreed that the difference in energy and coherence between the candidates was striking. Wearing her red MAGA hat at a festive pro-Trump party in the Detroit suburb of Novi, Bonnie Call said of Biden: “He just cannot think on his feet at all. President Trump is just on.”

In McAllen, Texas, near the Mexico border, London’s Bar & Grill is normally loud on a day close to the weekend, but many patrons were quiet as they absorbed the debate from TV screens. Here, Biden supporters, Trump supporters and undecided voters mingled.

Among them, Vance Gonzales, 40, a moderate Democrat, said the debate convinced him that “we need another Democratic candidate, to be honest, because this is not competitive.” He said of Biden: “He’s not on point with anything. I think it’s disappointing.”

Marco Perez, 53, voted for Biden in the last election and voiced frustration with what he was hearing and seeing. “I want to hear more facts, more action as opposed to more finger-pointing, more accusations or false accusations,” he said.


Marco Perez, 53, sits with Virginia López, 51, at a McAllen, Texas bar Thursday June 27, 2024. López is unsure which way she’s voting. “Unfortunately I feel that this is the first time where I don’t even know who I want to vote for,” Virginia Lopez said. “I really feel that one of them, the Republican, I’m disappointed with what he’s done, with his behavior. And the other one, I just feel like he’s too old.” (AP Photo/Valerie Gonzalez)

His friend Virginia Lopez, sitting with him, came away still not knowing whom she will support in November. She heard snappy but unsatisfying answers from the Republican. “Trump is just deflecting in all the answers and he’s just lying,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like a real debate.”

Biden? “I just feel like he’s too old,” she said.

Sitting up at the bar, Hector Mercado, 72, a veteran wearing a U.S. military beret, was a distinctive patron as he listened intently to the debate. Although he was a Democrat for several years, he switched parties under Ronald Reagan, a Republican.

Mercado heard Biden accuse Trump of making derogatory comments about veterans, but it didn’t sway his support for Trump. “Yeah, he said a few things bad about veterans at one point back in the early days,” he said of Trump. “But now he’s saying, ‘No, I back up the veterans and I never had any problems with him. I got a raise in my VA disability when Trump was president.”


Veteran Hector Mercado, 72, watches the presidential debate in a crowded McAllen, Texas bar Thursday, June 27, 2024. Although he was a Democrat for several years, he switched parties under Reagan. Mercado heard the allegations Biden raised about Trump’s derogatory comments about veterans, but it didn’t sway his support. “Yea, he said a few things bad about about veterans at one point back in the early days. But now he’s saying, no, I back up the veterans and I never had any problems with him. I got a raise in my VA disability when Trump was president,” Mercado said, standing by his choice. (AP Photo/Valerie Gonzalez)

Biden’s performance left him cold. “I think Trump is stronger,” he said, “and Biden is a little weak.”

In a Tijuana migrant shelter over the border in Mexico, people mainly from southern Mexico who are hoping to apply for asylum in the U.S. watched the debate in folding chairs in front of a screen on the wall.

The migrants, most of whom have been waiting for months for their appointments in that process, stared blankly at the screen as a Spanish-translated version of the debate played on. They watched an American democratic ritual in motion.


Andrea, a migrant from southern Mexico, poses as others watch the presidential debate in a shelter for migrants waiting to apply for asylum, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Tijuana, Mexico, as President Joe Biden and his Republican rival, Donald Trump, met for the first general election debate of the 2024 season. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Andrea, who did not give her last name due to threats of violence back home, has lived at the shelter for nine months. Her debate takeaway: “Well, I feel that the people of the United States don’t love Mexicans now.”

At Hula Hula, a tiki bar in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, patrons cheered wildly as their city got a mention from Trump — even if it came up when the Republican was complaining about lawlessness. Biden supporter Amy Pottinger of Seattle said the Democratic president did best when Trump made him angry.


Amy Pottinger, wearing a Biden/Harris sweatshirt, claps as President Joe Biden comments on how Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump handled January 6th as people watch the presidential debate at Hula Hula, a tiki themed bar, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

“Once he started talking about Roe v. Wade, it was like Biden woke up and was here,” she said.

At the same Chicago bar where patrons exclaimed about Biden’s stumbles — the M Lounge in the South Loop — the president scored with this zinger to Trump: “You have the morals of an alley cat.”

“Whoa!” the viewers there said.

But at a Democratic watch party in downtown Atlanta, it was a night of jitters.

“I’m so nervous, I feel like my kid is going onstage,” Georgia state Sen. Nikki Merritt said early on, patting her stomach as if she had butterflies.

Technicians struggled with sound and video. During one outage, the crowd chanted “Let’s Go Joe!”

“I want to hear Joe Biden talking to the voters and ignoring the crazy man in the room,” said Matthew Wilson, the Georgia Democratic Party’s vice chairman.

But there was no ignoring the man they called crazy.


Associated Press journalists Charlie Arbogast in Chicago; Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen, Texas; Gregory Bull in Tijuana, Mexico; Mike Householder in Detroit; Robert Bukaty in South Portland, Maine; Mike Pesoli in Washington, D.C.; and Lindsey Wasson in Seattle contributed to this report.