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UA Debate Series hosts Presidents’ Day debate: Sanders takes home the victory

Amit Syal

The UA Debate Series hosted its annual Presidents’ Day debate on Tuesday, Feb. 18 in Law 168.

The University of Arizona Debate Series held its annual Presidents’ Day debate on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at the James E. Rogers College of Law.

Six students represented the views of six U.S. presidential candidates: current President Donald Trump, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden and entrepreneur Andrew Yang (who dropped out of the race last week).

The debaters offered their respective candidates’ positions on resolutions from three topic areas — foreign policy, economics and health care. A fourth topic, the environment, was cut for time’s sake.

Ted McLoof, the executive director of the UA Debate Series, was one of the three moderators of the debate.

“At the end of last semester, … when we decided to do the President’s Day debate, we were looking at the main topics that we felt were kind of under-covered and under-discussed in a lot of the debates last fall, that we wanted to make sure got more attention and more civil discussion,” McLoof explained.

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To prepare for the debate, the students researched their candidates’ stances on the four topic areas with help from their own campaign staff. 

UA Debate Series intern Kaela Stehly, who represented the views of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, described how she prepared for Tuesday night’s debate.

“We all worked together to kind of, like, research her policies, her philosophy about politics, about what the role of the president should be. So, we kind of worked as a team together and then I kind of put it all together with the resources we had,” Stehly said.

Debaters stayed true to the spirit of their candidates throughout the night. Some examples include Biden (represented by Daniel Gyorffy) recalling his work on Obamacare with Obama during the healthcare topic and Andrew Yang (represented by Akash Satpathy) touting the benefits of the “Freedom Dividend,” his flagship policy during the economic discussion.

Sen. Sanders (represented by Josh Tashoff) passionately disavowed America’s role as the “world’s policeman” with his trademark hand gestures.

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“Well, these glasses are fake,” Stehly said on how she got into character to play Sen. Warren. “They wanted me to wear a wig, but I didn’t. But, the more that I researched her philosophy — because I didn’t know a ton about her as a candidate prior to — but the more that I researched her, the more passionate about the subject and the more that I aligned with her views, and it helped me to get into character, to just hear the passion behind what she was saying and the reasons for her philosophies and ideas.”

At the end of the night, spectators were given the opportunity to vote for the candidate that they believed gave the strongest performance. Sen. Sanders was declared the winner of the debate with about 50 percent of the vote. 

Tashoff, who represented Sanders on Tuesday night, expressed his enthusiasm for the senator’s campaign movement and his eagerness to portray the Vermont senator.

“I’ve been gunning for Bernie since I joined the team,” Tashoff said. “So, when we were deciding who would be which candidate, I was already slotted to be Bernie.”

The UA Debate Series will be holding two more debates this semester — a debate on gun rights on March 24 and another on the legalization of marijuana on April 21.

Follow Kristijan Barnjak on Twitter

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