Hundreds gather to watch debate in Houston Room

SGA President Shaun Theriot-Smith urged students to register to vote before the debate began. | Photo by Pablo Milanese.

Student Government Association President Shaun Theriot-Smith urged students to register to vote before the debate began. | Pablo Milanese/The Cougar

STUDENT CENTER SOUTH — Cheers met John Kasich and Marco Rubio, boos greeted Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and a mixture of the two received Ben Carson as they strolled onto the massive screen broadcasting the Republican presidential debate in the Houston Room.

Hundreds of students gathered to watch the candidates debate just across campus at the Moores Opera House on Thursday night. The Student Centers sponsored the watch party, which featured popcorn and a GOP-themed photo booth.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for your school to host this. Texas usually doesn’t host these things,” Francheska Durias, an economics junior, said.

Durias sat in the front row with a friend for the watch party. They arrived early for this special event because they said that organizations that host debates don’t usually view Texas as a state that represents how the election turns out.

Before the debate, Durias wasn’t sure which Republican candidate she preferred, so she felt she needed to attend the party.

“I don’t really know every candidates’ opinion on every issue,” Durias said. “I think this will help me decide who to vote for.”

Durias called herself “generally Republican,” and echoed scores of students in which candidate she thought would win: Trump.

Aqsa Khan, a biomedical engineering junior, hoped he wouldn’t. She said Trump as a president would detriment not only she as a Muslim woman but many others at the university, too.

“Honestly, he’s currently at the second-most diverse in the nation. He’s said a remark against like two in every five kids here, because we’re so diverse — he’s made remarks against Hispanics, Blacks, Muslims, everyone,” Khan said. “I really hope he doesn’t win tonight, especially in Texas, especially at the University of Houston, because we’re so diverse and we don’t support his (expletive).”

Often, when candidates critiqued each other or dropped a one-liner, the crowd would react with laughing and cheering. But the crowd thinned as dozens left after the first commercial break.

Hamza Amin Khan, a finance sophomore, was among the first to leave the party during the debate on healthcare.

“Honestly, it just got kind of annoying. They’re just arguing with each other. They sound like little kids,” Khan said, heading down the stairs of the SC South. “I’m going to go play pool or something.”

Andrea Velazquez, journalism junior, came to Houston two years ago from Mexico and, as a minority, she said she had been personally offended by rhetoric Trump has said. She hoped he wouldn’t win.

“He humiliates people that he doesn’t really know because he bases his words in stereotypes and generalizations,” Velazquez said. “There are a lot of people out there, regardless of nationality, who have done so much for this country — he just doesn’t deserve this (presidency).”

Mechanical engineering sophomore Eric Skinner came in for the free food, but he was watching Ben Carson.

“This feels like a community event. This debate is a once in a lifetime kind of thing,” Skinner said. “I like Ben Carson, but he’s not doing so great. He had some campaigning problems, and his managers dropped. He’s calm and mellow, and he’d be able to negotiate. He appeals to everyone. But I don’t think he’s going to win.”

As students filed out of the Houston room at the end of the debate, Blanca Wilson carried a sign that read “Don’t Believe the Liberal Media.”

“I thought the debate was really fiery,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, some of the debaters really didn’t speak up. It almost felt like a debate of Trump versus Rubio and Cruz. I would like to think that Ted Cruz won because he wasn’t as wordy.”

Chloe Stowell, an anthropology junior, disagreed.

“I definitely think John Kasich won the debate. He definitely showed his experience as a governor and having executive power,” Stowell said. “All the other candidates just kind of bantered to each other. Cruz and Trump were just ridiculous, and Rubio had a few good quips, but Kasich stuck to the issues, and he said them in a very clear manner … and so I think that he could be the best Republican candidate if he could get the support.”

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