The First Presidential Debate, from the Perspective of Locals Who Watched It

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A Latino watch party at El Mercadito restaurant in Westbury, Long Island. (Sarah Gonzalez/WNYC)

Voters from across the region watched the first Presidential debate at Hofstra University on Long Island Monday night. And WNYC reporters watched with them.

In a Mexican restaurant called El Mercadito in Westbury on Long Island, reporter Sarah Gonzalez snapped a photo. She was watching the debate in Spanish.


WNYC's Janet Babin sat with a Millennial who supported Bernie Sanders, and is uncertain about how she feels about Clinton, or who she'll vote for in the presidential election.


Then it started. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, opened the debate by pitching her economic policies as the best way to help most voters. She added that voters should use the first of three debates to assess "who can shoulder the immense, awesome responsibilities of the presidency" and who can "put into action" their plans.

Clinton said that Donald Trump had rooted for the housing crisis, saying that "he said back in 2006, Gee, I hope it does collapse because then I can go in and buy some and make some money. Well, it did collapse."

Andrea Bernstein was watching in Glen Cove on Long Island with a group of women in their 60s and their husbands, altogether about a dozen people. Some were Republicans, some were Democrats, but as the debate started, none of them supported Trump.


She said they really appreciated the phrase Clinton repeated, talking about how trickle-down economics doesn't work: "Trumped up, trickle down."

Trump kicked off his answer by touting his plan to create jobs and claiming that Mexico and other countries are "stealing them."

He said, "Our jobs are fleeing the country, they're going to Mexico and many other countries." He called for renegotiating U.S. trade deals and said job creation will flourish under a Trump administration because of his plans to lower taxes and scale back regulations.

When he focused on NAFTA, it seemed to be a strong moment for Trump. The Republican nominee said to Clinton, "Your husband signed NAFTA, one of the worst thing that ever happened in the manufacturing industry."

But he interrupted Clinton numerous times.

And he seemed to admit that he didn't always pay his contractors.

He also made this claim about his temperament:

Clinton scored points when she denounced Trump Monday night for keeping his personal tax returns and business dealings secret from voters. "There's something he's hiding," she said, while accusing him of peddling a "racist lie" about President Barack Obama by perpetuating the myth that he wasn't born in this country. 

The two presidential contenders covered a lot of ground: stop-and-frisk, ISIS, the country's fading infrastructure. But there were a lot of things they didn't address, like Bill Clinton's infidelities —or Trump's proposed wall on the Mexican border. 


The Associated Press contributed to this report.