As the four Republican presidential candidates sparred inside the Mesa Arts Center during Wednesday’s nationally-televised primary debate, a healthy dose of political activism and locals raising awareness for various issues and causes took to the streets outside the facility.
As the candidates inside tussled over such topics of immigration and the economy, groups and individuals outside raised their own points on similar issues of note.
“I’m here to raise awareness about (Mitt) Romney vetoing the Dream Act if he becomes president,” said Reyna Montoya, a political science and trans-border studies senior at Arizona State University.
On hand in support of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition – a group aimed at bringing awareness in support of the controversial immigration-centered legislation – Reyna was one of thousands gathered on Main and Center streets, as the City of Mesa-sponsored watch party took flight before, during and after the two-hour debate.
Information tables on a host of upcoming Republican races – from Washington to the local level – dotted the south side of Main street, while the east side of Center Street saw a large amount of foot traffic, and a strong contingent of politically-minded organizations, gathered.
One organization, the Mesa Republican Women, gathered to garner support for the party platform and support the run of GOP candidates.
One of the organization’s members, Son Hee Williamson, said that size of government, the national debt and securing the border were the biggest issues to her.
An immigrant herself, Williamson came here from Korea as an adult.
“I understand that people want to come here, but do it legally,” she said.
When expressing frustration about other immigrants’ inability to learn English and adopt it as their own language, Williamson said if she was able to do it as an adult, anyone could do it.
Another area of concern for her was a growing dependency on the welfare state.
“I don’t believe in welfare or handouts. I think the physically able should help themselves,” Williamson said.
AM 1280 The Patriot, a local conservative talk radio station, came out to support Republican causes as well. A national debt clock, aimed at constantly tracking the U.S.’s spending, sat on the station’s table and drew gasps and utters of disbelief from passers by. The local station, which is not endorsing a specific presidential candidate, does support local GOP efforts.
“We want people to get educated and vote, to take action… The country is in a perilous time. It has never been more important to get conservative leadership in the White House,” said Jim Ryan, the station’s general manager.
Not all groups showed up to offer genuine support though. Billionaires for Wealthcare, a tongue-in-cheek group whose message is based in satire, came out to mock many stereotypes of conservatives.
“We stand for survival of the richest. We want more money in our pockets. Let the poor people pay more taxes,” a member of the group identified herself as “Paree Hilltone,” standing against a backdrop full of comically dressed protestors and signs that read, “Death to the uninsured” and “Corporations are people, too!”
Taking it one step further, she mocked the influence of money in politics by saying, “We will support the richest, and Romney seems to be the richest, so we will support him.”
As the debate began, the protesting and activism subsided as many in attendance gravitated towards the large 14-foot by 20-foot screen being used to air the debate. The exchanges between the candidates generated both positive and negative responses from the crowd. Among the opening lines of the debate, candidate Rick Santorum’s remark about repealing President Barack Obama’s controversial health care law generated raucous applause, as did Romney’s promise to adopt a “cut, cap and balance” budget policy.
Candidate Ron Paul arguably received the most applause throughout the night, particularly when he called Santorum a “fake,” and when he used the word “consistent” to describe himself. The most audible negative reaction to Paul came from his remark regarding lack of proof for Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon.
John Wutt, a Mesa resident among the crowd watching the debate said that while he comes from a Democratic family and voted for President Barack Obama in 2008, Wutt does not plan on doing so again.
“I enjoy what Ron Paul has to say. I think government has too much power. I think politicians are all crook, in a sense,” he said.
A lack of jobs is the biggest issue facing this country, Wutt said. Before moving to Arizona, he lived in Florida where he worked in manufacturing. Like many though, his job was a casualty of the recession. He has currently been out of work for three years.
Kris Anderson, also of Mesa, turned out specifically to support Paul.
“He is the only one who is pro-Constitution, and his 20-year voting record shows it,” he said.
Anderson said the economy is the biggest issue in this election. He supports Paul because that candidate “goes to the source” of the problems – the Federal Reserve. Anderson cited Paul’s book, “End the Fed,” and said that the institution needs to be audited at the very least. As for Obama, Anderson said he is “in bed with Wall Street.”