It’s not every Monday night that hundreds of college students gather in a theater to watch CNN.
But this was no ordinary Monday night. The first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was moments away.
The University of Maryland College Republicans, College Democrats, Maryland Discourse, MaryPIRG, the Society of Professional Journalists, Students for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty co-hosted a debate watch party, which attracted more than 300 students to Hoff Theater in the Adele H. Stamp Student Union.
“It was awesome to see a lot of people engaged on campus. It’s important to have the youth vote because I mean historically the youth vote is underrepresented in actual turnout, so we need to encourage people to actually get involved and get to the polls,” said senior government and politics major Meredith Lightstone, who is president of the Terps for Hillary club on campus.
College Republicans president Jacob Veitch said that it was important to have so many groups involved in the event’s planning.
“We think that’s super important, and we want to make sure everyone’s involved in the process, and that we’re united,” said the junior international business and government double major.
It was a debate full of memorable jabs and gaffes from both sides, and reactions from students at the watch party were mixed.
Clinton’s mentions of her plans to make college debt-free predictably garnered some cheers from students on hand, while her gun control proposals were met with competing boos and cheers. Trump’s comments surrounding stop-and-frisk laws drew boos, but his comments about Clinton’s email scandal attracted some applause.
For College Park Democrats President Jake Polce, though, the winner was clear.
“I thought Hillary came across as the experienced stateswoman that she is and Donald Trump came across as a thin-skinned bully.” the junior government and politics major said.
Steven Clark, a sophomore government and politics major and College Park Republicans member, disagreed.
“Hillary Clinton is the more polished politician, that’s for sure, but I think people are tired of that and that’s really what Trump was emphasizing the whole time,” he said. “He’s not a politician, he’s trying to bring change to America. He definitely was not the most polished person tonight but I think he showed more command than he has in the past.”
For senior government and politics major Connor Semelsberger, choosing a winner was more difficult.
“As someone not sure whether to vote or who to vote for, I thought it was pretty balanced in terms of screw-ups and good things,” he said.
Danielle Shovel, a senior electrical engineering major said she thought Trump won out, but could have improved his strategy.
“I think he could have even called her out more than he did, he definitely could have,” she said. “He should have brought up Benghazi, which he didn’t really say, he just brought up, ‘the disaster in Libya.’ A lot of the stuff he talked about he could have hammered her more on.”
Veitch noted a similar trend, and said that the College Republicans on campus will not be endorsing candidates at any level this year.
“He had a lot of missed opportunities when he could have connected and put her down,” Veitch said. “He made it very personal about himself and that just seems to continue to suggest this idea that maybe he’s insecure even with his own candidacy, which is certainly not the strongest way to go about it.”
During the debate, which was on the eve of National Voter Registration Day, MaryPIRG registered students to vote and updated voter’s addresses as necessary, New Voter’s Project Coordinator Amanda Stavisky said.
“We got 26 students registered to vote. And actually what ended up happening is that a lot of people went are already very politically engaged so they were already registered to vote with their most updated address,” she said. “It’s awesome to see that many Terps are already engaged in the political process.”