Americans for Prosperity – New Hampshire held a debate watch party in Manchester Wednesday night to view the Republicans’ third candidate face-off, live from Miami. The debate included former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Senator Tim Scott and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson could not meet debate thresholds, although they are still running.
The watch party was held at the AFP-NH office in Manchester, where the group had refreshments available, along with “Debate Bingo” cards for attendees. Bingo squares included the phrases “the great state of Florida,” “Palestine campus protests,” and “only candidate who can beat Biden.” A large swag table with t-shirts, cozies, and drawstrings sat in front of a General John Stark quote (“Live free or die; death is not the worst of evils.”) on a pale-julep wall.
The event was more of a social mixer than a closed-lip viewing. The nearly sixty attendees were free with their political opinions, although some hesitated to provide names.
Prior to the debate, hosted by NBC News, Lorraine Lindenberg, an undecided voter from Derry, said that she wanted “to hear about the issues that affect me, my family, and my community.” Issues like “the economy, the wide-open borders, and the wars around the world.”
“I like Vivek. He’s got some great ideas, but he’s an unknown,” Lindenberg offered.
Attendee Tom Mannion, a Republican State Rep. from Pelham, predicted a “neocon-off,” where candidates compete to commit troops to conflicts we shouldn’t be involved in.”
One line the conservative AFP crowd greeted with applause was Scott’s warning to university presidents that “Federal funding is a privilege, not a right.” They also liked his statement: “If God made you a man, you play sports against other men.”
Another winner was DeSantis’ quip about knowing “a few people on Social Security” as the Governor of Florida.
But it was Vivek Ramaswamy who provoked the most reaction, much of it positive, from the debate watch crowd. From his first to his final statements of the night, he won them over.
Someone cheered when Vivek said Republicans wanted a debate “hosted by Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, and Elon Musk.” And the room broke into approving laughs when he confronted NBC News reporters Lester Holt and Kristen Welker over their alleged bias. The room rolled when he called Nikki Haley “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels.”
At the debate’s brief halftime ad break, Robert Petrino, a Saint Anselm College student and College Republican attending the debate, said he was impressed by the performance of both “Christie or Vivek.”
Miles, an attendee who did not provide a surname, said, “Vivek has the most response… he’s refreshing. He’s different than the other ones.”
Jack, who is leaning towards a Trump vote in the primary, said, “I don’t like agreeing with Chris Christie, but he made some good points.”
After the debate, state GOP Chair Chris Ager said it was “good to hear what key Republican leaders are thinking.” Ager believes most Granite Staters wait until later in the cycle to make their voting decisions.
Ager’s view was echoed by Greg Moore, AFP New Hampshire’s state director, who said the candidate’s personalities were becoming more developed and defined during the course of the campaign. Moore also saw that the activist community present at his event was excited about inter-candidate interactions during the debate.
New Hampshire House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn), a DeSantis supporter, was less amused with Vivek’s antics than others in the audience. “There’s a difference between entertaining and governing,” Osborne said.
“Ron is clearly the most serious, thoughtful, and unflappable candidate on that stage. He solidified in our minds that this is a two-man race between Ron DeSantis and the former President, Donald Trump.”