Election 2016

Protests, Watch Parties Accompany Republican Debate On UH Campus

The Republican primary debate at the University of Houston did not only draw the presidential candidates and the GOP faithful. It attracted protesters, and sprouted several watch parties across campus.

Protesters gather outside the Republican primary debate on the UH campus
Protesters gather outside the Republican primary debate on the UH campus

A couple of hours before the debate started, protesters gathered on the UH campus. Their plan was to use the national attention to get their voices heard.

Houston Public Media's Coverage of Election 2016

Houston Public Media's Coverage of Election 2016

Messages ranged from demands for a higher minimum wage to Black Lives Matter to calling out Donald Trump for comments he’s made about Mexican immigrants.

Green Party member Don Cook was there to complain about the Republican candidates.

“You know, they are all so bad,” he said. “Trump is the obvious one because he’s so rude and obnoxious, but I’m not happy with any of the top three.”

The protesters faded as the debate got under way. And that’s when the watch parties began at the UH Student Center and at other locations across campus.

Calhoun’s Rooftop Bar and Grill was a popular spot for students of different political persuasions.

UH students watch the Republican debate at Calhoun's Rooftop Bar and Grill
UH students watch the Republican debate at Calhoun’s Rooftop Bar and Grill

Before it started, Nathan McMullin, who studies accounting and entrepreneurship, said he was leaning toward John Kasich and Marco Rubio.

“I want to see what the reactions are going to be against each other,” he said. “Now that they’ve kind of thinned out the pack, I really hope to see more debate between those two.”

Protesters gather outside the Republican primary debate on the UH campus
Protesters gather outside the Republican primary debate on the UH campus

He didn’t get to see a lot of exchanges between those two candidates. As in previous debates, the focus was on Trump and those attacking him, in particular Rubio and Ted Cruz.

When it was over, McMullin said he was disappointed.

“I felt like it was a continuation of the moderators asking to talk about politics and the presidential candidates basically bickering with each other like children.”

He said the debate left him leaning toward the Democrats.

Forest Wharton, who double-majors in entrepreneurship and supply chain management, thought Kasich performed the best among the candidates.

“Everyone else at some point got really irritated and lashed out,” Wharton said. “He did not. He was very composed the entire time.”

But Wharton also acknowledged that isn’t helping Kasich, because the campaign seems to be more about personalities than issues.

Ash Goldfarb, a finance major who favors anti-establishment candidates like Trump and, on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders, said Cruz and Rubio attacked Trump because he is so far ahead.

Protesters gather outside the Republican primary debate on the UH campus
Protesters gather outside the Republican primary debate on the UH campus

“I think the other candidates are getting kind of desperate,” he said. “And I feel like Trump didn’t really have an answer to a lot of the things that they were attacking him for.”

There were also some Cruz supporters in the crowd. Political science major Hannah Mathems thinks he didn’t get enough speaking time.

“It was very sided on Trump and Rubio,” she said. “It felt like a personal battle between them.”

Another Cruz supporter, history major Matthew Simpson, was one of the few who had good things to say about the event

“It was a step up from the last debate, which is not saying much really,” he said. “But the last debate was a complete disaster. This one was a far better showing from all the candidates, Trump included, although I hate him.”

Simpson said it was a great experience having the candidates and the debate at the University of Houston.

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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