“Mr. Trump! Mr. Trump! Mr. Trump!”
Hundreds of reporters shouted at the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, as he came down “spin alley” inside Hofstra University’s physical education building Monday night.
Media outlets from across the world converged there for the first presidential debate between Trump and the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, on the Uniondale campus.
For a night, Hofstra and Long Island were at the center of the election that has consumed the nation and that many on both sides of the aisle say is critical to its future.
Trump’s walk through the corral lined with microphones, cameras and iPhones was unusual for a presidential nominee, but he took questions for more than half an hour.
Clinton did not come through herself, but more than a dozen surrogates walked the floor touting their candidate’s performance, trailed by workers carrying tall posts bearing their names.
A Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll published last week shows Trump leading Clinton on Long Island by four percentage points.
Trump’s promises to bring jobs back to the U.S. from overseas and to bring “law and order” to city streets strike a chord with Long Island’s middle-income voters, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Shirley), one of Trump’s surrogates, said in the “spin room” after the debate.
“He resonates with middle-income voters. He resonates with people who live in neighborhoods, who live in communities — hard-working people,” King said.
Trump hit those points hard, pledging to grow jobs by cutting taxes and crack down on crime, while Clinton promised to bolster the middle class and improve police relations with minority communities.
Their exchanges got personal. Trump interrupted Clinton more than 50 times (she interrupted him 17 times), and both dug up each other’s past gaffes. Some moments drew gasps or laughs from reporters watching from a room inside the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine.
Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Queens) said Clinton showed her mastery of the issues while Trump resorted to interrupting her to avoid discussing them.
“He bragged about that he didn’t prepare for the debate — that was evident. He didn’t prepare,” said Meeks, who represents parts of southwest Nassau County. “So clearly he hasn’t prepared to be president either.”
As midnight neared, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a prominent Trump surrogate, told a scrum of reporters that were he in Trump’s position, he would not do another debate without a pledge that the moderator would be fairer than the “NBC Nightly News” anchor, Lester Holt.
Trump himself, though, said earlier that he thought Holt’s questions were “very fair.”
On the campus before the debate, students filed in front of elevated stages for television broadcasts, cheering, shouting and chanting their support for their preferred candidates.
“I’m a Hillary supporter, but that’s me picking the lesser of two evils,” said Emily Culverhouse, a Hofstra junior from Pennsylvania. “I’m hoping to see less bashing from the two and more focus on policy.”
Culverhouse said she was able to volunteer for the debate. Out of the 800 students who applied to volunteer, 300 were selected, she said.
Standing behind the Fox News broadcasting stage, Nick Vanchot, a freshman from Milford, Connecticut, said he’s a moderate Republican voting for Trump.
“I’m hoping he can justify his immigration standings,” Vanchot said. “I want to see him have a solid backing for what he’s saying.”
During the week leading up to the event, Vanchot said, the student body had more energy and excitement about the candidates.
“It was really a time that people showed their true colors,” he said. “Political topics can get touchy and sometimes people don’t really talk about them, but this week it’s been different.”
Ryan Lopez, a senior from Westchester County, said the country needs to see progress. He’s voting for Trump because he’s tired of Clinton’s dishonesty, he said.
“How can this country elect someone into office who paid for weapons for ISIS,” Lopez said. “A Trump presidency won’t be as bad as people think, because in America we have checks and balances.” (Trump has described President Barack Obama and Clinton as founders of ISIS, a claim that has been debunked by fact-checkers.)
With many students packed behind the Fox News stage supporting Trump and others behind the MSNBC area supporting Clinton, Dempsey Goodale, a freshman from South Windsor, Connecticut, said he would vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.
Goodale said he likes Johnson’s lack of extremism, and that he thinks Johnson seems more trustworthy than Trump and Clinton combined.
“It’s frustrating to see honestly [that Johnson wasn’t debating] because I believe a lot of the people here are saying they’re very unsatisfied with both the candidates,” Goodale said.
Many students, like Hannah Goodman, a freshman from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said they don’t fully support either candidate, but they’re leaning toward one side.
Goodman, originally a Bernie Sanders supporter, said she was excited to see the two candidates square off at Hofstra.
“I’ve been getting texts all week from people asking me what it’s like here,” Goodman said. “It’s unreal and it’s a really great experience.”