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For residents, presidential debate raises the stakes of November’s election

Residents played bingo, trivia and other games in the Lagoon Room of downtown Tiburon’s Cinelounge theater on June 27 as they watched a live broadcast of CNN’s presidential debate. (Naomi Friedland / The Ark)

President Joe Biden’s disastrous performance rattled viewers at Cinelounge’s Debate Night Bingo on June 27, with many fearing what the upcoming election has in store — particularly if former President Donald Trump wins another four years.


“I’m fearful of Trump because I’m fearful he will end democracy,” said George von Bozzay of Belvedere, who sat in the front row of the Tiburon movie theater’s Lagoon Room during the broadcast of CNN’s first presidential debate ahead of the Nov. 5 election.

Biden’s blank stares and weak voice immediately drew national headlines about his fitness as president, with pundits calling for a new candidate ahead of August’s Democratic National Convention, dropping names including Vice President Kamala Harris, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.


At the same time, fact-check reviews showed Trump made at least three times as many false or misleading statements in a debate that devolved into bickering over golf handicaps.


Flash polls after the debate, however, showed other Democrats wouldn’t fare any better against Trump, at least for now, than Biden himself. Biden was down 1.9 points — 46.8% to 44.9% — in the RealClear Politics aggregate as of June 28.


Von Bozzay said he was disappointed in both Biden’s and Trump’s performances, but that even though Biden is aging, he has sharp advisers around him so von Bozzay isn’t too worried.


Meanwhile, Tiburon resident Lyndasue Johnson said she is still on the fence about which candidate she will vote for.


“I think we are in for a rough ride for the next few months,” Johnson said.


“I was disappointed in the performance of the Democratic candidate,” she said, adding that she is not sure if Biden can serve another four years. Biden will be 86, Trump 82, at the end of the end of the 2024-2028 presidential term, and either winner will be the oldest to ever serve. Biden, now 81, is already the oldest.


Johnson said she does not think it will be possible to switch him out for another Democratic candidate given how much money has been raised toward his campaign.


But Trump, she said, was not honest.


“He is really good at performance, but I don’t think he is qualified.”


She said given the candidates’ performances, she was surprised by how quiet and well-behaved the Cinelounge audience was.


Cinelounge showed the debate on two of its big-screen theaters — expanding from one due to demand — for an evening that included bingo, trivia and prizes.


Before the event, co-owners and husband-wife team Christian Meoli and Camilla Jackson handed attendees slips to guess how many times Biden would say “c’mon man” — zero, according to Meoli — or Trump would say “huge” or “yuge” — it was twice — with the winner getting a $100 gift card to Cinelounge.


Viewers also got a bingo card, filling in squares when Trump or Biden said “American dream,” “Ukraine,” “Fauci” or other phrases for a shot at a $100 gift card to Petite Left Bank restaurant downtown. Von Bozzay belted out “bingo!” toward the end of the debate.


Meoli and Jackson also asked trivia questions on American history during intermission, handing out free movie tickets to winners.


Many, including Tiburon resident Arlene Love, said watching the debate with company in a more relaxed environment helped ease her nerves.


“I’m more comfortable being around other people rather than watching it alone,” she said. “Being with other people takes the edge off of it.”


During the watch party, people laughed and turned toward each other when Trump made shocking remarks, such as when he claimed to help slow climate change during his presidency from 2016 to 2020.


“I thought it would be an interesting experience to watch the debate with others and see how they reacted,” said Tiburon resident Mark Freiberg.


However, he said while it was nice to be with others in his community, he still left the debate with anxiety about the upcoming election in November.


“I think they both did horribly,” he said. “I think they should both drop out of the race, and that would create an exciting opportunity for America.”


He said one of his biggest concerns about Biden’s performance was his inability to address Trump’s inaccurate talking points and claims in real time — something the CNN moderators didn’t do either.


Meoli said most attendees seemed disappointed in their country’s leadership.


“It was comparable to watching a Super Bowl or a boxing match and seeing the majority of the crowd deflated.”


Reach Naomi Friedland at 415-944-4627.

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