By Ken Stone
For San Diego County Democrats joining to watch Tuesday night’s presidential debate, the question wasn’t: Who won?
It was: Who needs a drink?
“I would like to thank alcohol for getting me through that viewing,” one woman posted in a Zoom chat that included more than 680 posts. Another said she’d “rather have a root canal.”With county Democratic Party Chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy displaying MSNBC coverage, about 100 local Democrats took part in a virtual watch party, which began an hour before the 6 p.m. debate and continued until 8:01 p.m.
About 35 minutes into the first televised tussle between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, one Democrat posted in chat: “I switching from ice cream to alcohol right NOW.”
Seconds later, another woman said: “I haven’t drank or smoked pot in 31 years. I think tonight’s the night.”
Their beef was the president interrupting the Democratic candidate in a “cringy” Cleveland showdown.
“Trump doesn’t need a mask; he needs a muzzle,” said one woman.
Said another: “This is appalling. They need a gag order.”
And yet another: “It was a hurricane spawning 25 tornadoes derailing a train and flipping a cruise ship.”
While cheering Biden’s occasional zingers (“He wouldn’t know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn”), local Democrats felt sorry for his ordeal.
“I wouldn’t blame Biden if he walked off,” said Chula Vista Elementary school board candidate Kate Bishop, who earlier made pitches for support with several other down-ballot hopefuls. “This is ridiculous no information no debate.”
One man was less patient: “I swear to god I’d pay a million dollars to just see Joe Biden punch Trump right then and there.”
Referencing a Trump tax write-off noted in the recent New York Times story, Amit Asaravala was among several making light: “His hair tonight looks like he should ask for a refund on some of that $70K.”
Asaravala, president of the Poway Democratic Club, played pundit later.
“Joe’s strategy is to speak to all viewers,” he said. “Trump’s strategy is to hang on to his base.”
Local left-wing ire also was directed at the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, skewered for losing control of the debate. Several suggested a mute button for Trump’s microphone.
“Chris Wallace could learn a thing or two from some local Dem Club leaders. When we say ‘2 minutes are up,’ we MEAN it,” said a board member of San Diego Democrats for Equality.
More than an hour into the debate, another Democrat judged: “Chris Wallace is just being ridiculously biased” in favor of Trump.
(On the San Diego County Republican Party Facebook page, meanwhile, Wallace was labeled “sooo liberal” by Cheryl Buffington. “Very obvious [where] Wallace stands,” Caroline Tower added. And John Godwin judged: “Wallace is a Trump hater and should not moderate.”)
In a Zoom exchange afterward, party chair Rodriguez-Kennedy — also a member of the Democratic National Committee — made an effort to calm fears about Election Day’s aftermath.
“If [Trump] steals this election, he’ll do it through the courts,” he said from the party’s Kearny Mesa headquarters. “It won’t be him refusing to leave office. It’ll be the Supreme Court handing the election to him” as in 2000’s Bush v. Gore shutting down the Florida recount.
Soon after the debate, the county party sent out a fundraising letter that began: “The first presidential debate just ended, and it could not be more clear that we MUST elect Democrats up and down the ballot. Can you rush a donation RIGHT NOW to help us respond to the hate being spewed by Trump and his cronies here in San Diego?”
John Mattes, a local activist who worked in the Bernie Sanders campaign, commented on what he called “the spectacle.”
“Remember, every time you’re at a dinner, and your crazy uncle goes off. You’re hoping: ‘Maybe he’s going to stop when we give him the mashed potatoes.’ But he didn’t. He couldn’t stop. So he ruined the dinner,” he said.
But Biden kept his cool against “the heckler,” Mattes said.
“Very classy. Very presidential,” he said of the former vice president. “And it conveyed to us a reassurance that we can move forward and beyond this. And that is the hope of all Americans.”
Former congressional candidate Josie Caballero was shaken by Trump’s call for “poll watchers.”“I don’t think it really matters what Joe Biden said tonight,” she said. “It’s about what Trump said about what he’s going to do to manipulate and win this election under his terms. … Will Joe Biden fight back harder … when it comes to the election results?”
Another woman said in the debate aftermath: “We have to be ready for intimidation at the polls. He said he’s going to make sure that mail-in ballots are going to be invalidated. He said he’s not going to accept any type of result …. Those are the things we need to be afraid of.”
Mattes echoed what others said about steeling for Election Day:
“We’re going to be there all night and day,” he said. “The [state] electors will be irrelevant to the numbers we bring out. If it takes us two days to vote, let us stand in line two days.”
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