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At debate watch party, Trump still center of attention

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — People gathered on the rooftop of the Westgate condominium complex Wednesday night to watch the four GOP presidential candidates battle it out on the stage of Moody Music Hall less than two miles away. 

But a major presence in people’s minds was the candidate not on the debate stage.

Multiple students at the watch party said that they still planned on supporting former President Donald Trump in the primary.

Hallie Hutchins, a sophomore at the University of Alabama  and self-proclaimed “big Trump girl.”

“I remember on the night that he (Trump) won in 2016, I had it on my iPad mini in my bedroom, refreshing it, waiting to see. I really do like him, and I really do think that he’s the one that stands out the most to me,” Hutchins said. “He’s very strong on all the things, like I said, strong opinions are good.”

Hutchins and Angel Garcia, a UA senior who also said he planned to support Trump, both noted their admiration for Vivek Ramaswamy, who spent the evening bashing the “neo cons[ervatives]” and has often been held up as a further-right version of Trump, with Hutchins saying he seemed “very informed” and Garcia saying that Ramaswamy appealed to younger voters. 

“He’s the one who actually stands with what he says,” Garcia said.

At the end of the day, however, students still found themselves comparing the candidates to the former president.

Gavin Wood, a freshman from Troy University, said he were interested in Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who has gone from being neck-and-neck with Trump in the polls last year to fighting Nikki Haley for second place. Wood said his interest stemmed from DeSantis’ record as governor, with praise for how he handled the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that he felt DeSantis was more conservative than Trump. 

“I really like how DeSantis is the mature one on stage,” Wood said. “Ron DeSantis seems like the only one who is actually talking about the issues.”

University of Alabama junior Abigail Clark said prior to the start of the debate that she didn’t know much about politics but she wanted to begin getting more involved as she gets closer to graduating.

Clark said she felt DeSantis was a “strong leader” similar to the former president.

“I don’t agree with everything, but he seems to be a good leader and outspoken. So we need someone strong,” Clark said. “With everything that’s going on, especially with the war, I feel like there’s been a lot of appeasing in the country. We need someone who, like Trump was, who just put their foot down and, honestly, just gets it done.”

Despite a surge in support nationally for Haley, students gravitated towards Ramaswamy and DeSantis when giving out compliments. Wood said he was glad that Haley was “finally getting called out” by the other candidates.

“The ‘neo-con’ stuff – that was really funny,” he said, referencing attacks made by Ramaswamy.

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