As the top eleven Republican candidates took center stage in their second debate Wednesday, local supporters gathered at an organized watch party, hopeful that the night might bring a clearer picture in the race for the Republican nomination.
The watch party, organized by the Tampa Bay Young Republicans, drew more than 30 people out to Mojito in Tampa, each with their own perspective of how the process will play out, but optimistic with their options.
“I think the American people begin to really pay attention after Labor Day, and I think you're going to see a lot of movement and changes,” said Deborah Cox-Roush, currently the Hillsborough County chairm for Marco Rubio's campaign. “That's what this process is all about. It's what debates are about, what our primaries are about, and with Florida having our primary on March 15 we've got a long way to go, but it's exciting to see so many great candidates.”
Once the debate began, the pro-Rubio crowd was the most vocal contingent, but former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina's performance left the strongest impression among many viewers.
“It's definitely Carly's show right now,” said Michael Herd, who prior to the debate had already settled on Donald Trump. “She's definitely getting a lot of points tonight. Trump's hanging in there, that shot by Carly hurt, but so far it's her show.”
“It's a healthy debate,” added Hillsborough County commission District 6 seat candidate Tim Schock. “I think Carly has been knocking it out of the park. She's calm, she's collected, to me she looks presidential. I haven't really decided myself, but I'm impressed with a few of them so far. ... I saw the first debate and she definitely distanced herself from everyone else who participated. Now she's on the main stage where she belongs and she's doing really well. Unlike some other candidates, she didn't take the goading, she had a great response but she also remained above the fray.”
Some were a bit disappointed by debate's repetitive nature, including Holly Holobyn, vice president of the Tampa Bay Young Republicans.
“I still feel like I haven't learned much since the last debate. It's kind of the same questions reiterated and answered in a different way. Trump is still making his remarks we all expect Trump to make his remarks because he's Trump. I think some of the questions are targeted to generate some backlash, some motivation for a fiery comment, just so it can be a good sound bite for the next day.”
With two debates down, the race is still wide open, with 16 Republicans (former Texas governor Rick Perry dropped out earlier this week). Trump has topped most of the polls (or tied with surgeon Ben Carson), but that could change and many political observers say it probably will. and Florida Republicans are taking pride in the fact that their primary votes will likely count,
Such a robust primary field is a luxury that Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera feels hasn't been afforded to those on the other side of the ticket, given the Democratic Party's seeming anointment of Hillary Clinton.
“One of the things that makes me proud to be a Republican is that in our party the primary voters are going to decide the nominee," said Lopez-Canter, who is running in the GOP primary for the seat Rubio is vacating to run for president. "They clearly have plenty of candidates to choose from and will have plenty of opportunities via many debates to hear them. The Democratic party is basically telling their voters who their candidates are going to be. At least democracy is working a little better on this side.”