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Voters In Arizona Watched Presidential Debate With Anticipation


Now let's hear NPR's Don Gonyea. He saw the debate at a Democratic watch party in a movie theater in Maricopa County, Ariz.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Arizona has long been reliably Republican in presidential contests - 16 over the last 17 times, in fact. But demographic changes are giving Democrats hope here.


CHUCK TODD: Twenty candidates qualified for this first debate. We'll hear from 10 tonight.

GONYEA: This audience watching on the movie theater screen in Scottsdale seemed to welcome this new phase of the campaign. After a section where the candidates' varying views on health care got an airing, retiree Sue Ellen Riley (ph) felt things were going well.

SUE ELLEN RILEY: I think health care, jobs and climate are our number one - 1a and 1b - issues in this country.

GONYEA: At one point, Senator Amy Klobuchar said President Trump conducts foreign policy in his bathrobe at 5 a.m. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard called Trump a chicken hawk. Such attacks did not impress schoolteacher and Democrat Jeff DeCoursey (ph).

JEFF DECOURSEY: They should spend time differentiating themselves from each other. You know, we all know who Trump is. He's been president for 2 1/2 years. You know, what is the point in going after him on these things when we already agree on that? Tell us what makes your policy different.

GONYEA: Some lamented the crowded debate stage. Still, 35-year-old government worker Rigo Gonzalez (ph) says it was good to get to hear specifics from candidates he didn't know well. I asked if watching eases his worrying about what may happen next year. No, he said.

So you're going to watch the second night.

RIGO GONZALEZ: Yes. Yes I am looking forward to it. I think, once again, it won't do much to ease the anxiety. But I'm looking forward to hearing what the second round of candidates have to say.

GONYEA: Different audience members praised different candidates afterwards. Several said they got active after the 2016 election and that Trump is keeping them involved this time.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Scottsdale, Ariz.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.