Texas Democrats gathered in San Antonio on Tuesday and Wednesday nights to watch fellow Texans participate in both presidential primary debates.
The Alamo Drafthouse hosted the Texas Democrats' watch party, where party members kept close attention on former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke on Tuesday and former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julián Castro on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, several attendees said O'Rourke accomplished his goal of appearing to take a centrist position on major issues, as compared to front-runners Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
He did not back “Medicare for All,” and he did not favor decriminalizing all border crossings.
Bexar County Party Chairwoman Monica Alcantara said she couldn't officially declare support for a candidate but thought this performance from O’Rourke was stronger than his first debate appearance.
"When he spoke tonight, he was the O'Rourke that we received here in Bexar County and fell in love with in the last election cycle, so very proud and pleased to see O'Rourke did an amazing job tonight,” she said.
Local Democrat Becca Defelice said O'Rourke did well with the short microphone time he had.
"He has had as much speaking time that some of the people that are at the top of the polls right now,” she said. "I think he's holding his own."
According to CNN, which aired the debate, O’Rourke was near the middle of the pack of 10 candidates when it came to speaking time on Tuesday night. He spoke for about 10 and a half minutes. Warren led the group with about 18 minutes.
O'Rourke said fighting the NRA's political action committee would be a major step towards reducing gun violence. He claimed he could unite the country and defeat President Trump by showing racial diversity is a strength, like that found in his hometown of El Paso.
And on Wednesday night, Castro was still a hometown favorite for the crowd at Alamo Drafthouse movie theater. As he took the stage, supporters in the theater cheered.
Debate Night Numero Dos!
— Joey Palacios (@Joeycules) August 1, 2019
“He came out really strong in the first debate," Alcantara said. "I don’t think he waffled or wavered this time. He was still strong. I would have liked to see more of him.”
According to the CNN stats, Castro also had about 10 and a half minutes of speaking time. Joe Biden, vice president in the Obama administration, had about 21 minutes.
Like O’Rourke, when it comes to health care, Castro said he believes people should have the option to stay with their private insurers. He said he did not support “Medicare for All.”
However, unlike his fellow Texan opponent, Castro wanted to decriminalize crossing the U.S.-Mexico border for undocumented people. He said by eliminating Section 1325 of the U.S. code he would change illegal border crossing from a misdemeanor crime to a civil offense.
He defended himself when Biden claimed he never heard Castro push this policy when he was HUD secretary during the Obama administration.
"Mr. Vice President, it looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past. One of us hasn't," Castro responded.
Much of the Wednesday debate centered around Biden, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker as they argued over health care and immigration issues.
The Texas Democratic primaries are still more than 200 days away. Voters like Rebecca Fisher remained undecided.
“It’s got to be somebody that can move us forward," she said. "It’s got to be somebody that can defeat Donald Trump. I am a civil rights attorney. Trump is disaster.”
Mark Cammon, a college instructor, said he's had a hard time choosing, though Elizabeth Warren was his frontrunner. But regardless of who the nominee is, he said, the party must be unified.
“I would like for us to be unified as a party, and I think we’ve learned our lesson [from the 2016 presidential election]," he said. "We will gravitate toward one candidate at the end of this campaign. The Republicans are not going to be able to exploit our divisions. The Russians are not going to be able to exploit our divisions anymore.”
The next round of Democratic debates will be in Texas. Another two-night debate is set for September 12 and 13 in Houston.
Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@TPR.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.
Ryan Poppe can be reached at RPoppe@TPR.org and on Twitter at @RyanPoppe1.