A collection of demonstrators gather in the heart of Otterbein University's campus.
A collection of demonstrators gather in the heart of Otterbein University’s campus. [Andy Chow | Statehouse News Bureau]

Democratic Presidential Debate Sparks Demonstrations For Candidates, Causes

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Westerville was in the national spotlight as Otterbein University hosted the fourth Democratic Presidential Debate. While about 1,500 people were able to watch the event live in the campus gym, many more were outside the venue using the event as a platform for their own agendas.

Student debt was one of the top concerns of college students. Otterbein sophomore Stephen Blauch says it’s not just a problem after graduation.

“Some of my actually close friends have had to drop out because financial debt has been too much for them,” Blauch says.

Students also wanted to hear how the candidates were going to take action against climate change. Older attendees like Columbus resident Nancy Smith said they wanted to hear how the candidates would deal with issues that affect women and minorities.

“I’m looking for someone who can beat Trump. I am looking for a candidate that cares about women’s health issue, about really head on facing this gun issue. I’m looking for someone who cares about health care and people who don’t look like them,” Smith says.

Electability was key for many of those standing in line. Tara Windle of Columbus said she was looking for a candidate who could reach out to voters who sat out in the 2016 election or cast ballots for President Donald Trump – people like her husband.

“He said, ‘I don’t want anyone who gives away everything. I just want someone who is moderately sensible and thinks the way I think.’ That’s a frightening thought sometimes,” Windle says.

People in the line were upbeat and optimistic. That kind of excitement carried over into several demonstrations and canvassing around campus.

Amy McMillin walked around Otterbein to get people to sign a petition that would put Beto O’Rourke on the ballot for the Ohio primary.

She says the debate creates an opportunity for to meet potential voters.

“That’s how it all starts, grassroots volunteering. Get out there and knock on doors and meet people,” says McMillin.

Supporters for several candidates were spotted around campus, including those stumping for Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang.

“Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Tampon tax has got to go!” was a chant heard in the center of campus as demonstrators rallied against the sales tax on feminine hygiene products. This was one of many demonstrations on campus and on the sidewalks of Uptown Westerville.

Anusha Singh, an Ohio State University student with the group PERIOD, says being outside the debate gives them a chance to raise awareness of period poverty and the so-called “Pink Tax,” issues that she believes should be on the candidates’ radar.

“There’s a lot of young people voicing out about this issue and this effects a lot of people but because of the stigma we don’t talk about it,” says Singh.

Also walking around Otterbein’s campus was a group of gun owners who held an open carry march with their AR-15s in tow. Among the marchers was Bill Groom, who says the Democratic candidates are on the wrong side of the gun issue.

“I know what they want to do and they want to take our Second Amendment right and if they can do that, then they can do whatever they want,” says Groom.

Supporters of President Donald Trump like Bob Kunst wanted to make sure there was a counter response to the Democrats in Westerville. He’s standing next to a table with homemade cardboard signs that back Trump.

“The public needs to know that we have a leader that’s willing to take the risk and go after the power structure in both parties,” says Kunst.

With so many groups on campus and in Westerville voicing their differing opinions, there was a common opinion that they appreciated how the debate created an opportunity for them to exercise their First Amendment rights.