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After the debate: Watching with students and in the spin room

Reporters interview surrogates following the presidential debate at Washington University.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Reporters interview surrogates following the presidential debate at Washington University.

Inside a spin room packed to the gills with reporters, campaign surrogates tried to put their best face forward about the debate.

“The first 20 minutes started out a little rocky,” said U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, a Republican from Salem, Missouri. “But the next hour and 10 minutes was focused on a lot of policy and issues that Americans are really paying a lot of attention to: health care, taxation, the Supreme Court vacancies. So I thought that was pretty good.”

But Smith’s colleague, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, had a much dimmer view of Trump’s performance.

“Donald Trump spoke tonight as if he’s an expert on African-American life, and he’s done it throughout this campaign,” said Cleaver, D-Kansas City. “You know, they’re getting shot walking down the street, they’re getting raped, it’s hard for them to live, and it’s miserable for them. And in fact, he said as Americans are worse off now than ever in their history — we were enslaved for 300 years in this country.”

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-University City, said "The American viewer saw the contrast between a woman who looks presidential, sounds presidential and who is well-equipped to be our next president, in comparison to a candidate who I consider to be desperate."

Retired U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., is a member of the Commission on Presidential Debates. He said, "I thought that the moderators kept it too long on the sex stuff. To the extent it got on more substantive subjects, it was a better debate."

Danforth added, "Trump did better than I expected. I think he has a very steep mountain to climb."

From pols to students

Student sentiment in the Danforth University Center strongly favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in the debate on campus, though even students who favored her performance said he had done better than expected.

Still, they didn’t think the second of three debates was likely to change the minds of many voters.

“I’m not sure they really should have,” said Kossivi Esse, who is studying biology and computer science. “By this point, I think they’ve been campaigning for months, and in more than a year you should really know what your candidate’s policy proposals are.”

Added Peeti Sithiyopasakul, who is studying biology with a minor in health care management and anthropology:

“I think she may have swayed some of the remaining independents to support her, but I think most people who were watching the debate already know that I’m going to vote for Donald Trump or I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton.”

Nicole Thraum, who is studying health care administration and urban studies, gave the edge to Clinton, but not as big a one as she has had in the past.

“I expected Hillary to be willing to say more specific, and more concrete evidence of what she will do in the future,” she said, “as opposed to having this eloquent rhetoric of I want to do this, and falling back into slogans. I thought she would be able to cite more specifically how she is going to implement change.”

On the GOP candidate, Thraum had this to say:

“Trump is a character, I expected him to be a character and he was a character. That being said, I thought he cited specific plans that once you take away the nonsense, started to make a little bit more sense.”

Ezugo Onejeme, a pre-med student studying biology, was decidedly in Clinton’s corner.

“Donald Trump didn’t really answer anything. He just kind of mumbled.”

With one more debate to go before Election Day Nov. 8, Thraum doesn’t expect the presidential race to change much.

“At this point,” she said, “both candidates have their followers, they have their base. And it’s become such a polarized election, that I don’t think that either one of them is going to have people jumping the fence at the last minute.”

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Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.