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Mid-Ohio Valley political leaders react to debate

PARKERSBURG — The day after a raucous face-off between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, local party leaders offered their assessment of the candidates’ first debate.

“Never has it been more clear that President Trump has accomplished far more in just 47 months than Joe Biden has in 47 years,” Wood County Republican Party Chairman Roger Conley said, echoing a phrase the president used multiple times in the debate. “Prior to COVID-19, President Trump built the strongest economy with the lowest unemployment rate that any of us has ever seen. President Trump’s leadership is now bringing our economy back at a much faster pace than expected.”

Washington County Democratic Party Chairwoman Willa O’Neill said Biden showed respect for America’s citizens and the office of president while Trump resorted to insults “rather than talking about issues and answering questions.

“It was kind of a lost opportunity to have a serious discussion about some very serious issues facing our country and world,” she said.

Washington County GOP Chairman Joe Derkin said he saw “no decorum from Biden, whatsoever,” noting the Democratic nominee called Trump a “clown” and told him to “shut-up.”

Walt Auvil, a member of the West Virginia Democratic Executive Committee from Wood County, said it would have been a challenge for Biden to completely keep his cool in the face of Trump’s constant interruptions.

“The Bible tells us to turn the other cheek. But you know what? We’ve only got two,” Auvil said.

He likened Trump’s behavior in the debate to a toddler having a tantrum.

“If any competent parent had a child who acted the way the President of the United States acted during that debate, that child would be in timeout,” Auvil said.

Derkin faulted moderator Chris Wallace for pressing Trump on various questions but not challenging Biden in instances such as when the former vice president declined to say if he would support packing the Supreme Court with additional justices to overcome the conservative majority observers predict if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed.

“It was just a little ridiculous, as always,” Derkin said. “(Trump) was the only one pressing Biden.”

Auvil called the debate “an appalling display” with both candidates’ “continual, unending interruption, talking over one another.” When he was in the Parkersburg South High School debate program in the 1970s, he said, a participant would be disqualified for interrupting, going over their allotted time or making personal attacks.

Wood County Democratic Executive Committee Chairwoman Judith Stephens said the debate “exemplified the chaos America has faced over the last four years.”

“In contrast, Vice President Biden detailed his vision for America’s future despite the constant interruptions,” she said.

Rob Cornelius, who claims chairmanship of the Wood County Republican Executive Committee while challenging his removal by state GOP officials in court, said that “whether you enjoyed the debate, its format or the alleged chaos therein, viewers came away sure that this president will never stop fighting for them.

“Tuesday night, President Trump made clear he would fight for this country, as no one else has or can,” he said.

While the president drew criticism for not stating whether he would accept the results of the election, Cornelius said he looks forward to Trump sharing information about interference in his administration by Biden and former President Barack Obama.

“The attempted coup will be clear to all who are not yet up to speed. Democrats nationally will pay the price at the ballot box as no one has since 1974,” Cornelius said. “Be prepared to be entertained.”

O’Neill said she was troubled by Trump’s response when Wallace asked him to denounce white supremacist groups. After asking for the name of such a group, when Biden referenced the self-proclaimed “western chauvinists” known as the Proud Boys, Trump said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”

Derkin said Trump definitely could have communicated better but noted that the president also said he was willing to denounce such groups because he wanted peace.

“I think his point was, ‘back off,'” Derkin said.

Some Democrats have called for Biden not to participate in the remaining two debates. While Biden said he plans to go forward with the events, O’Neill questioned how much good it would do if Trump did not abide by the agreed-upon rules.

The presidential debate commission indicated Wednesday that it will adopt changes to the format for the upcoming debates.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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