Debate elicits passion, respect from candidates and audience

Matt DeYoung • Nov 1, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Eighteen months ago, U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, hosted a town hall meeting at Grand Haven’s Lakeshore Middle School. The capacity crowd was described at the time as “boisterous,” and Huizenga left that event feeling decidedly battered.

“I understand beating up on your congressman is a national pastime,” he said.

On Tuesday, Huizenga was back in the Lakeshore Middle School auditorium, this time for a debate with his Democratic challenger, Dr. Rob Davidson.

The auditorium was once again packed to near capacity, and, once again, the crowd was decidedly anti-Huizenga.

Probably three-quarters of those in attendance wore blue “Dr. Rob” stickers on their jackets or shirts, while only a small corner of the auditorium featured the red T-shirts bearing Huizenga’s name.

But, unlike that town hall meeting 18 months ago, the crowd at Tuesday’s debate was overwhelmingly civil and respectful.

Sure, there were a few times when they voiced their opinions. Davidson’s supporters broke out in feigned laughter when Huizenga, during his opening statement, said America may not be as well-liked under President Trump but is much more respected on a world stage.

Both camps’ supporters were especially vocal during a lively 10-minute discussion on health care. Conversations about abortion and campaign finance reform also drew passionate responses from both the candidates and their supporters.

But the respect shown at Tuesday’s debate was commendable.

The debate, hosted by the Tribune, was set up in such a way to give the candidates more time to dig deep into an issue and to go back-and-forth about their stances.

This certainly had its desired effect — several times during the debate, both Huizenga and Davidson were on their feet, standing just inches apart, glaring at each other as they hammered away at their stances on issues such as the environment, education, taxes and jobs.

But both men also showed a healthy dose of respect, which was refreshing to see.

At the end of the night, both camps left feeling their candidate had won the debate.

Someone asked if the Tribune would be declaring a winner, and the answer to that is no. Our wish in hosting the debate was to allow those people who remain on the fence to make a more informed decision when it comes time to vote next Tuesday.

If you missed Tuesday’s event, never fear — you can watch the debate in its entirety online at ghtrib.com or on the Tribune’s YouTube channel.

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