There were ten candidates onstage during last night’s Republican presidential debate on FOX News, but many local viewers had their eyes on one familiar face — maybe two.
That was the upshot at XFinity Live in South Philadelphia last night, where Talk Radio 1210 WPHT hosted a debate watch party with more than 150 people in attendance.
Some viewers appreciated that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came out swinging early, defending the state’s economy and claiming it has improved since he took office in 2010.
“It’s not been easy — it’s a tough state, divided north and south,” said Matt Hilbert of Cape May Courthouse, who attended the watch party.
Hilbert agreed that New Jersey was a mess under former Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, and said Christie got that point across.
“He told his story: things aren’t great, but they’re better than they would have been had he not been in office,” Hilbert said.
Later in the debate, Christie displayed his aggressive, wisecracking style during a feisty exchange about government surveillance with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
Christie defended the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programs, after which Paul accused him of misunderstanding the Bill of Rights, a criticism that rang true with Drexel Hill resident John DiMassi.
“He just doesn’t get it that all of us out here in Voterland — we actually care about the Bill of Rights. He seems to be a prosecutor and not a citizen,” DiMassi said. “He’s got no reason to be listening to my phone calls, you know?”
Christie also discussed entitlement reform, an issue he’s focused on in New Jersey.
But some of the largest reactions of the night — both applause and jeers — came in response to comments by businessman Donald Trump.
Trump made waves at the beginning of the debate by refusing to rule out an independent presidential bid if he doesn’t receive the GOP nomination. He was critical of Atlantic City and boasted about having removed his business from before casinos started shutting.
Trump also waded into several back-and-forth exchanges with other candidates, which won conditional praise from some members of the crowd such as Philadelphia resident Al Ricchezza.
“As far as the one who punched and counter-punched the best, it kills me to say Trump.”