Friday, June 28, 2024

'Good luck America': Biden debate performance leaves voters in liberal Madison lamenting choice

From JSOnline:

Laura SchulteTristan Hernandez
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Even in Wisconsin's liberal bastion, the capital city of Madison, President Joe Biden's debate performance with former President Donald Trump left voters at a watch party lamenting their choice in the election.

Biden's voice was hoarse and raspy from the start Thursday night. He stumbled over words and had to correct himself with numbers. He was sometimes hard to follow. On one occasion, the president appeared to lose his train of thought, concluding − confusingly − with the line, "we finally beat Medicare."

Noah Anders, 24, grimaced when asked what he thought about the debate. 

"It was a painful experience to sit through. Neither candidate inspires our country,” Anders said. The Madison resident soon to start law school at the University of Wisconsin said the debate left him with concerns about Biden’s cognitive abilities but that he also questions Trump’s mental abilities.

"To be president you deal with a lot of tough issues, and I don't know if they have the ability to navigate the nuance and hardships of the job," he said. "Good luck, America."

Timothy Sanders, 48, said despite the president’s shaky performance he is still optimistic about Biden, but he acknowledged the president didn't sound as crisp at a time that optics could be important to the election..

"I'm not concerned at all about his age. If you had a grandpa who took you fishing and had a stutter, you would still trust him," he said. "You wouldn't put him in a debate on live television if you could avoid that because that's entertainment. That's not fair."

Sanders vowed to campaign for Biden, because he doesn't want to see Trump elected again. 

"I think we're in a very dangerous place," he said. 

The comments came at what should have been a friendly space for the Democratic president. The debate was hosted at The Barrymore Theater by Madison-based The Devil's Advocate Radio and The Progressive magazine, a political publication based in the same city. Several hundred attendees wore Biden Harris t-shirts and enthusiastically purchased popcorn and beer.

Then the televised debate started.

"I resent having to choose one of them" said Jesse Clingan, 42, a construction worker from Milwaukee. 

"It's kind of picking the worst of two evils, Clingan said. "But at the end of the day, I’d rather have (Biden) on his worst day than Trump at all."

Heidi Robertson, 48, a job coach in Madison, said that she noticed Biden was a bit "fumbly" and that it felt "cringey," but what he was saying was good. 

"He's going too fast. He needs to slow down with his talking to get all his thoughts out," she said. 

The debate could compound a big problem in Biden's campaign in the vital swing state of Wisconsin: flagging enthusiasm for his campaign among Democrats.

A Marquette University Law School poll issued Wednesday, a day before the debate, underscored the issue.

The poll showed Trump and Biden deadlocked in Wisconsin both with registered voters and likely voters, but the underlying numbers presented a warning sign for Biden, according to poll director Charles Franklin. Trump is scheduled to officially receive the Republican nomination at the party's national convention in less than three weeks in Milwaukee.

Voter enthusiasm is overwhelmingly on Trump's side and that could be decisive in November, Franklin said.

"Here's a path for Joe Biden to lose this election pretty badly, is that he's failed to inspire his supporters," Franklin said Wednesday at an event on Marquette's campus. "They're unenthusiastic about him and his campaign, and they're much less likely to vote than those who are very enthusiastic, who overwhelmingly are for Trump."

Wednesday's poll shows voters who think of themselves as very enthusiastic to vote are siding with Trump over Biden 61% to 39%, and voters who describe themselves as having lower levels of enthusiasm lean toward Biden by significant margins, Franklin said.

"This raises a big question about turnout and what matters here, because Biden has real strength among the voters who are not engaged," he said. "Trump has real strength among the people who are really excited to participate. And so how does this balance out?"

At a watch party at Carthage College in Kenosha, voters felt dissatisfied with both Biden and Trump’s performance in the debate. The watch party was hosted by Braver Angels, a group that hopes to bridge the U.S. partisan divide, and attendees agreed that both candidates did poorly Thursday night.

“The contest of ego — it got really old really quick,” said Rebecca Cataldi, 43, of Arlington, Va. “It would have been nice if they had been willing to put that aside and been willing to talk about what we need.”

Cataldi said that it felt like the country was being “bullied” into choosing either Biden or Trump and she wasn’t happy to have to vote for either

Aletheia Underhile, a student at Dakota Wesleyan University in South Dakota, said she liked the questions the moderators posed during the debate, but that her biggest gripe was that they allowed the candidates to go off-topic with their answers. 

Underhile, who is 20, said the 2024 is “discouraging” for the first presidential contest she can vote in, and wants to learn more about the third party candidates before she makes her final decision.

“My perspective is essentially picking Biden or Trump is me deciding which is the lesser of two evils, and I'm not willing to choose any evil, even if it is the lesser of two evils,” she said after the debate.

Journal Sentinel reporter Molly Beck and USA TODAY reporters Joey Garrison and Josh Meyers contributed.

Laura Schulte can be reached at and on X at @SchulteLaura


Much more in-depth coverage of the debate: Presidential debate replay: Democrats sweat after Joe Biden freezes during pivotal debate

Personally, I think that both candidates are shit.  Oh woe is us.

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