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Southern California Voters React To 1st Night Of Democrats' Debate

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here in California, there are many shades of blue. Polls suggest Democratic voters are keeping their options open as they decide who to back in 2020. In a televised debate last night, some of the candidates sparred over the direction of the party. And Libby Denkmann with member station KPC was watching with some voters here in Los Angeles.

LIBBY DENKMANN, BYLINE: The San Fernando Valley Young Democrats gathered over tacos and tequila at a Mexican restaurant in the Studio City neighborhood of LA.

UNIDENTIFIED RESTAURANT SERVER: Cilantro, onions?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED RESTAURANT SERVER: And shrimp is coming with aioli salsa with pico de gallo.

DENKMANN: California is a solidly blue state, but voters are a long way from uniting behind a favorite Democrat in the presidential race. Drexel Heard says he's most concerned about electability, finding that challenger who will deny President Trump a second term.

DREXEL HEARD: And that is a moral issue.

DENKMANN: With that in mind, Heard's been worried that the most progressive candidates are taking up too much oxygen in the early debates.

HEARD: Majority of Democrats are moderate. Just because you're the loudest does not make you the majority. And I think that's what people forget.

(CHEERING)

DENKMANN: Watching moderate hopefuls, like John Delaney and John Hickenlooper, go after Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the cost and feasibility of "Medicare for All," Heard couldn't help but nod his head. There are plenty of people he knows who fear losing their private health insurance.

HEARD: In Los Angeles, we have a lot of studios with union members who know their benefits could be affected by something like "Medicare for All."

DENKMANN: Vanessa Carr says she appreciated the full-throated defense of "Medicare for All" from Sanders and Warren on the debate stage.

VANESSA CARR: I get it, but for millions of families in this country, including my own, we've had to have those discussions where it was like, are we paying the rent this month, or are you going to the doctor?

DENKMANN: Carr is leaning towards Senator Warren. She loves her college debt forgiveness plan. But most voters at this watch party say they're still sampling the overstuffed buffet of the Democratic field.

ANDREW LEWIS: I'm shopping around, as I feel like I should, a good voter should do.

DENKMANN: Andrew Lewis is mixed race, African American and Latino. His mother is an immigrant from Peru. He says it was important to hear Democrats in the debate talk about the impact of structural racism on people of color and reject racist statements from the White House.

LEWIS: I think following the week that we had with President Trump and him just explicitly going after the city of Baltimore and just black folks in general, I'm glad that they addressed it head on.

DENKMANN: But Lewis says any Democratic candidate who wants to compete for the Golden State's mother lode of delegates will have to bring solutions to fix the country's broken immigration system. He didn't hear enough about that on Night 1, but he'll keep browsing. For NPR News, I'm Libby Denkmann in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.