HEMPSTEAD, NY —
The audience at Mack Sports Complex at Hofstra University witnessed a theatrical showdown Monday evening: the first of three presidential debates, and first head-to-head matchup of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Those in attendance were asked to hold their applause until the end, but the passion was evident.
Outside the debate hall, there was no holding back.
Here on the Hofstra campus, students and pundits scrutinized every word and movement by the two major party nominees.
At a watch party in the student center, the cheers were at times deafening.
“You live in your own reality,” Clinton charged. The audience loved it.
Once debate moderator Lester Holt bid farewell to the television audience, the dash to claims of victory at Hofstra was on.
Cuban, Plouffe on Trump
Clinton "gave depth to her answers. She didn't hesitate," said billionaire businessman Mark Cuban, a vocal critic of Donald Trump. Trump "was a counterpuncher, and like a lot of counterpunchers, when you throw your jab and it misses, you get frustrated and you press."
Billionaire Mark Cuban walks through the media filing center at Hofstra University, just prior to the first presidential debate in Hempstead, New York (B. Allen/VOA)
David Plouffe, political strategist and manager of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, told journalists he believed Trump had a difficult time retaining focus.
"Trump had some moments where it's hard to keep track of what he was really talking about," Plouffe said.
Giuliani, King on Clinton
Republicans were quick to cast Trump as better prepared to improve law and order and the economy.
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose controversial "stop and frisk" security policy was praised by Trump in the debate, called Clinton "a total phony."
"She was a failed secretary of state, and what she demonstrated tonight is an incredible ignorance of the economy," Giuliani said. "How are you going to keep jobs in this country if you tax businesses more? Why would a business want to pay more taxes?"
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, speaks to reporters after the debate, in an area known as Spin Alley, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Sept. 26, 2016.
Republican congressman Peter King, from New York, acknowledged Clinton had put Trump on the defensive but said the candidate held his ground.
"I thought Donald Trump did very well,” King said. “He raised issues on trade, he raised issues on foreign policy, he raised issues on law and order, which she was not able to effectively rebut."
Trump defends debate performance
But perhaps the best form of congratulations on Donald Trump’s debate performance came from Donald Trump himself, shortly after leaving the stage.
"Based on all of the online polls, we did tremendously well," the Republican nominee said in front of a VOA Russian service camera.
"I'm very happy that I was able to hold back on the indiscretions with respect to Bill Clinton, because I have a lot of respect for Chelsea Clinton and I just didn't want to say what I was going to say."
Among students, few changed minds
Outside the campus "spin room," the designated scene where journalists crowd around election-savvy wonks and politicos, many students who watched the debate across campus spoke just as passionately as the pundits.
"I think [Trump] went out there and said the same message where we have to build walls and we have to protect ourselves and the cost of hurting American Muslims is less than security, which I think is ridiculous," said Fatima Mozawalla, a Muslim-American student at Hofstra.
Brandon Lebowitz, a Hofstra student and Trump supporter, was glad his candidate held his ground when pressed on his Iraq record.
"Trump is a very good public speaker," said Lebowitz. "People underestimate his power in public speaking, about him delivering his message. He has worked with thousands of workers across the country, he has dealt with construction workers all the way to high up in finance."
Long after the cameras have packed and moved on, the campus debate will continue for Hofstra students.