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Debate-watchers in the Biden and Trump camps seem to agree on something. Biden had a bad night

WASHINGTON (AP) — “Oh, Joe.”

That gasp, from patrons at a Chicago bar when President Joe Biden first stumbled verbally in his debate with Donald Trump, spoke for a lot of Americans on Thursday night.

In watch parties, bars, a bowling alley and other venues where people across the country gathered to tune in, Trump supporters, happily, and Biden supporters, in their angst if not dread, seemed to largely agree they had witnessed a lopsided showdown.

By the end of the 90-plus minutes, some Democrats were saying what partisans say to put the best face on things: It’s still early. One debate doesn’t necessarily sway the nation. Judge him by what he’s done and wants to do, not by how he says things.

But many were let down.

Biden “just didn’t have the spark that we needed tonight,” Rosemarie DeAngelus, a Democrat from South Portland, Maine, said from her watch party at Broadway Bowl. Trump, she said, showed “more spunk or more vigor” even if, in her view, he was telling a pack of lies.

Fellow Biden supporter and bowling alley attendee Lynn Miller, from nearby Old Orchard Beach, said: “It’s like somebody gave Trump an Adderall and I don’t think they gave Joe one.” (The drug is used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.)

“I’ve never seen Trump seem so coherent,” Miller said. “And I hate to say this, but Joe seemed a little bit off. But I still support him over Trump because Trump lied about every single thing that happened.”

Trump supporters certainly agreed that the difference in energy and coherence between the candidates was striking. Wearing her red MAGA hat at a festive pro-Trump party in the Detroit suburb of Novi, Bonnie Call said of Biden: “He just cannot think on his feet at all. President Trump is just on.”

In McAllen, Texas, near the Mexico border, London’s Bar & Grill is normally loud on a day close to the weekend, but many patrons were quiet as they absorbed the debate from TV screens. Here, Biden supporters, Trump supporters and undecided voters mingled.

Among them, Vance Gonzales, 40, a moderate Democrat, said the debate convinced him that “we need another Democratic candidate, to be honest, because this is not competitive.” He said of Biden: “He’s not on point with anything. I think it’s disappointing.”

Marco Perez, 53, voted for Biden in the last election and voiced frustration with what he was hearing and seeing. “I want to hear more facts, more action as opposed to more finger-pointing, more accusations or false accusations,” he said.

His friend Virginia Lopez, sitting with him, came away still not knowing whom she will support in November. She heard snappy but unsatisfying answers from the Republican. “Trump is just deflecting in all the answers and he’s just lying,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like a real debate.”

Biden? “I just feel like he’s too old,” she said.

Sitting up at the bar, Hector Mercado, 72, a veteran wearing a U.S. military beret, was a distinctive patron as he listened intently to the debate. Although he was a Democrat for several years, he switched parties under Ronald Reagan, a Republican.

Mercado heard Biden accuse Trump of making derogatory comments about veterans, but it didn’t sway his support for Trump. “Yeah, he said a few things bad about veterans at one point back in the early days,” he said of Trump. “But now he’s saying, ‘No, I back up the veterans and I never had any problems with him. I got a raise in my VA disability when Trump was president.”

Biden’s performance left him cold. “I think Trump is stronger,” he said, “and Biden is a little weak.”

In a Tijuana migrant shelter over the border in Mexico, people mainly from southern Mexico who are hoping to apply for asylum in the U.S. watched the debate in folding chairs in front of a screen on the wall.

The migrants, most of whom have been waiting for months for their appointments in that process, stared blankly at the screen as a Spanish-translated version of the debate played on. They watched an American democratic ritual in motion.

Andrea, who did not give her last name due to threats of violence back home, has lived at the shelter for nine months. Her debate takeaway: “Well, I feel that the people of the United States don’t love Mexicans now.”

At Hula Hula, a tiki bar in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, patrons cheered wildly as their city got a mention from Trump — even if it came up when the Republican was complaining about lawlessness. Biden supporter Amy Pottinger of Seattle said the Democratic president did best when Trump made him angry.

“Once he started talking about Roe v. Wade, it was like Biden woke up and was here,” she said.

At the same Chicago bar where patrons exclaimed about Biden’s stumbles — the M Lounge in the South Loop — the president scored with this zinger to Trump: “You have the morals of an alley cat.”

“Whoa!” the viewers there said.

But at a Democratic watch party in downtown Atlanta, it was a night of jitters.

“I’m so nervous, I feel like my kid is going onstage,” Georgia state Sen. Nikki Merritt said early on, patting her stomach as if she had butterflies.

Technicians struggled with sound and video. During one outage, the crowd chanted “Let’s Go Joe!”

“I want to hear Joe Biden talking to the voters and ignoring the crazy man in the room,” said Matthew Wilson, the Georgia Democratic Party’s vice chairman.

But there was no ignoring the man they called crazy.


Associated Press journalists Charlie Arbogast in Chicago; Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen, Texas; Gregory Bull in Tijuana, Mexico; Mike Householder in Detroit; Robert Bukaty in South Portland, Maine; Mike Pesoli in Washington, D.C.; and Lindsey Wasson in Seattle contributed to this report.

Calvin Woodward, The Associated Press