The first round of debates between 2020 Democratic presidential candidates is over. Candidates in the crowded race, randomly split into two groups of 10, tried to stand out on the stage Wednesday and Thursday nights during debates hosted by NBC News in Miami.

In Santa Fe, SFR joined a watch party hosted by the Santa Fe Sunrise Movement at the Center for Progress and Justice to learn what locals think of the presidential hopefuls and the issues that matter in New Mexico.

In case you missed it, we've added some of the highlights from both nights. Plus, if you need a refresher on who's who, we gotcha—check out our list of the candidates and how they fared at the end.

In Santa Fe, Climate and Immigration Matter Most

At the Santa Fe watch party organized by youth activists, climate change and immigration were the most pressing issues for audience members and for organizers, many of whom are barely on the cusp of voting age. For older attendees and several young women, healthcare and women's reproductive rights came next on the list.

Youth organizers hosted debate watch parties across the country and have launched campaigns to call on the Democratic leadership to host what they call a "climate debate" addressing the global crisis.

"The truth is that all of the other issues they are talking about are connected to climate change," says Aspen Coriz-Romero, a 17-year-old Española Valley High School student, one of the  local organizers.

Coriz-Romero introduces debates with words on climate crisis.
Coriz-Romero introduces debates with words on climate crisis. | Leah Cantor

Coriz-Romero says that in New Mexico in particular, environmental issues are a matter of racial justice and reflect a long history of oppression. "It connects to colonization and that connects to pretty much everything. … These people are dumping and fracking near Indigenous people or people of color, and it's just that kind of thing of putting down minorities for the sake of money."

Santa Fe resident Ronnie Ortiz, an attendee at Thursday night's party, told SFR she cares equally about healthcare and student loan debt, but ultimately climate is the most pressing issue. Echoing Coriz-Romero, she said, "In New Mexico we are the resource for their oil, for their uranium, but we are also the biggest dumping ground. They'll pollute all of Dinétah … and you've got to realize, this isn't just an environment and energy issue, this is a health care issue too."

As for the candidates, Ortiz dismissed front-runner Elizabeth Warren as being  "not a hard hitter" and "ignorant of Native issues," and Joe Biden for "riding on Obama's coattails."

Leah Cantor

For Samuel Hidalgo, candidates' stance on immigration will determine his vote. "I think Castro would be my choice from the first debate. 'Adios, Donald Trump!'" he said, quoting closing statements by the former housing and urban development secretary and mayor of San Antonio, Julián Castro, who effectively shifted Wednesday night's conversation to his proposals on immigration.

"Castro come from the sidelines, but he really impressed me," Hidalgo told SFR, adding that Kamala Harris, whom he had also not expected to like before the debates, is now his second choice due to her clear statements on reinstating DACA. During the debate, Harris said she disagreed with Obama's immigration policy and stated that rape victims should not be afraid to call on police for help just because of their immigration status.

Hidalgo was not the only attendee who was swayed by the debates to consider a candidate who had not been on their radar before. Jem Fitch, who also offered praise for Elizabeth Warren, told SFR, "I was really impressed by Jay Inslee from Washington. He had some really important things to say about climate change, like that what we do in the next four years will determine our future." Inslee's campaign is entirely focused on the issue of climate change, and the Washington governor and former congressman often pivoted from other questions asked by the moderator to drive home his message of urgency during Wednesday's debate.

Leah Cantor

Yet climate received merely six minutes of attention on Wednesday, and only nine minutes on Thursday.

At the watch party in Santa Fe, the unofficial verdict was fairly unanimous: This is not enough.

Event organizer Artemsio Romero y Carver, a 16-year-old student from the New Mexico School for the Arts, told SFR, "I don't believe that our political system represents us in any way. Especially not my generation, especially not my ethnic group, and none of the interests of me and my peers. Even in this debate you can see the willful ignorance of what is essentially a threat of an extinction-level event."

Like many of his peers, Romero y Carver said that climate change is intrinsically connected to the other issues on the debate stage. But while he said it must be the most urgent priority, he also noted he sees Bernie Sanders as the only candidate who recognizes that nothing will fundamentally change without fixing economic inequality as well.

"These issues essentially all came from the same source, which is corporate mass greed. Seventy percent of greenhouse gasses come from corporations. Then the majority of individual polluters are above the middle-class line. The climate change issue is an economics issue. Police brutality is an economics issue. Immigration is an economics issue," said Romero y Carver, because "all of these things start from the initial assumption of unequal power."

Leah Cantor

Who's Who and Highlights

Are you too having trouble keeping track of all the old dudes? Here's a complete list of the candidates. Based on the reactions in the room in the Center for Progress and Justice, it's organized by who Santa Fe thought came out on top and who came out on the bottom each night.

At the Top:

US Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts

Warren was the top-polling democratic contender going into the debate on Wednesday, and in general, the Santa Fe crowd seems to mostly agree that she remains at the top. Her platform includes Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. Warren got a standing applause from Santa Fe when she said she'd give every woman access to a full range of reproductive healthcare and make Roe v Wade federal law.

US Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont

Bernie has a lot of love in Santa Fe. And though he didn't shine quite as bright as some may have hoped on night two, his closing remarks earned the loudest applause Thursday of any other candidate when he said that America must "have the guts" to take on "the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the military-industrial complex and the fossil fuel industry."

US Sen. Kamala Harris, California

In many respects, Kamala Harris stole the show Thursday night with strong responses to the moderators and memorable one-liners, as when she responded to the bickering that threatened to derail the debate with, "Hey guys, America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we're going to put food on the table." She also took Biden to task for his record on race, which earned her respect from more than one attendee at the Santa Fe watch party, and set herself apart on immigration.

Rising Star:

Julián Castro, former mayor of San Antonio, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

No one saw him coming, but Castro certainly made a splash in Wednesday's debate. His stance on immigration earned him the confidence of many Santa Fe voters, and his statement that all women, including trans women, deserve reproductive justice despite being poor earned him hoots of approval.

The Potentials:

US Sen. Cory Booker, New Jersey

Booker stood out by bringing the conversation back to criminal justice reform and highlighting violence against trans women of color. The highlight was the scandal stare he gave O'Rourke when the latter began addressing the audience in Spanish.

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana

At 37, Buttigieg is the youngest candidate in the 2020 race and the first-ever openly gay presidential nominee. When a recent police shooting in South Bend came up during the debate, Santa Feans say he handled it with humility, plus he's got a strong stance on climate. Debate highlight: Buttigieg accused Republicans of religious "hypocrisy" over the Trump administration's approach to immigration saying that they have "lost all claim to ever use religious language."

Jay Inslee, governor of Washington

Inslee pushed climate change as hard as he could when he could. This caught Santa Fe's eye.

US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii

She's an Iraq War veteran and the first Hindu elected to Congress. Gabbard delivered a strong anti-war message and wouldn't back down when Tim Ryan floundered answering foreign policy questions.

Say What?

Marianne Williamson, author and activist

Spiritual guru Williamson said some wacky things Thursday night, including that she was going to defeat Trump with love and that her first call as president would be to the prime minister of New Zealand to argue about where kids have it better. But she made some solid points about the health impacts of chemicals and pollution that got a lot of applause in Santa Fe, plus she got a lot of laughs—all in all, it seems she ended up … a crowd favorite?

Andrew Yang, entrepreneur, founder of Venture for America

Yang says the best thing he could do for America is give every person $1,000 a month, no questions asked. He's got an economic theory to back it up, but sort of seems like he entered the wrong stage on his way to an economic TedX talk.

Just… eh

US Rep. Michael Bennet, Colorado

Bill De Blasio, mayor of New York City

Says he's for the working class but his claims to have done everything first got tiring.

US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York

Interrupted everyone.

US Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota

She has warm and friendly vibes and some good jokes, but ultimately Santa Feans say she's too "hometown" to make it as the president.

Beto O'Rourke, former congressman from Texas

What a flop. O'Rourke, the shining star from Texas, did not impress Santa Fe with his immigration antics or his lack of clear environmental vision.

US Rep. Tim Ryan, Ohio

Ryan started off with a strong message about industrial America, then floundered under foreign policy pressure from Gabbard, and everyone lost interest.

California Rep. Eric Swalwell

Most notable moment: when Swalwell told Biden to "pass the torch" to the younger generation. Didn't impress much beyond that.

At the Bottom:

John Hickenlooper, former governor of Colorado

Hickenlooper got loud hisses at multiple points during the debate—most notably when he said that fossil fuel companies should be part of the solution to climate change. Santa Fe was not a fan.

Joe Biden, former vice president

Biden got the most speaking time of any candidate in the race, which frankly isn't surprising for an old white dude who represents the establishment. But he was defensive when questioned on race by Harris. Another shining moment was when Biden said the enemy is "not the NRA."  His record on climate, says watch party organizer Artemsio Romero y Carver, is "not great." Romero y Carver continued, "I'm glad they went after him in the debate. Someone has to."

John Delaney, former US congressman for Maryland

Delaney interrupted everyone, once to try to talk about his grandpa, and was "excruciatingly annoying" during the debate, according to a loud whisper overheard from the row in front of where SFR was sitting Wednesday night. Not a favorite.