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At GOP debate viewing party, cheers, boos and protests aplenty

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At GOP debate viewing party, cheers, boos and protests aplenty

  • Supporters of the Dream Act assemble outside Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate in Mesa.
    Jessica Testa/Cronkite News ServiceSupporters of the Dream Act assemble outside Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate in Mesa.
  • Those attending a viewing party outside the GOP presidential debate in Mesa wave on queue at a CNN camera.
    Jessica Testa/Cronkite News ServiceThose attending a viewing party outside the GOP presidential debate in Mesa wave on queue at a CNN camera.

Among the hundreds attending Mesa's viewing party for Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate, some of the strongest reactions were over the issue of immigration.

But to Cesar Valdez, who was here with the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, the issue, brought up late in the debate, got too little attention.

“I was disappointed they didn’t give that much time to immigration,” Valdez said. “They spent just a few minutes on the biggest issue in the state.”

Members of Valdez’s group sat in the front row, before a giant screen carrying CNN’s broadcast. When a mention of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio garnered widespread applause from the crowd, coalition members booed.

Another big cheer erupted when Mitt Romney promised to drop the federal government’s lawsuit against Arizona over SB 1070. A small group of Latino students booed, drawing shouts of “Shut up” from others.

In a designated protest area outside the Mesa Arts Center, where Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Romney and Rick Santorum debated, Carmen Cornejo of Chandler was among those chanting, “Veto Romney, not the Dream Act.” It was a reference to stalled legislation that would offer many young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

“I’m protesting here because Governor Romney said if he were president he would veto the Dream Act,” Cornejo said.

George Cliffton of Scottsale carried a sign saying he stands with all immigrants and shouted “Same old, same old!” as candidates answered questions on various topics.

“It’s the same old thing we’ve had for four years,” he said. “It’s always going to be the same thing.”

Other groups in the “free speech” area included abortion rights supporters, Occupy Phoenix demonstrators and fans of President Barack Obama. They sometimes went head-to-head with GOP supporters.

Police stood by with zip-tie handcuffs and pepper spray, prepared for altercations that never came.

Near that intersection, Jim Hunt of Tucson sold buttons bearing each candidate’s face for $5.

“I’ll vote for a trashcan if it beats Obama,” he said. ”I like a little about every candidate, but I don’t like everything about anyone.”

The majority of the crowd consisted of Republicans, many of whom brought children and grandchildren and enjoyed food booths and live music in addition to the debate.

“It’s so exciting to be here and see everyone coming out,” said Jeffrey Victorian of Mesa. “It’s democracy in action.”

Victorian, who said he isn’t sure which candidate he’s going to vote in Arizona’s GOP primary next Tuesday, laughed along with the crowd as the candidates took verbal swipes at each other. But by the first commercial break, he was cringing.

“I’m frustrated when they have to attack each other, but I understand why,” he said.

Some of the most enthusiastic responses were for Ron Paul and his libertarian views.

“He was good,” said Carey Rumley of Mesa, a Paul supporter. “One thing I liked about him is he stayed true to the Constitution.”

Dan Woolston of Phoenix, a Romney supporter, said his candidate had the best night.

“If you look at Mitt Romney compared to all the other candidates, they are pretty much agreeing to everything he is saying,” he said.

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