Martha’s Vineyard tunes into first presidential debate

Hillary and Dan Post watch the presidential debate at The Ritz. — Stacey Rupolo

It may not have been on a par with the first moon landing or a Patriots Super Bowl, but the hype that preceded the first presidential debate between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump prompted The Times to go in search of debate action.

A trip to Edgartown revealed that if there was any considerable interest, most viewers had decided to watch in the comfort of their own homes. The Wharf Pub, a year-round favorite, was closed for the night. At Sharky’s and the Seafood Shanty, the televisions featured sports, not politics — a diplomatic choice.

Meanwhile, most windows in downtown Oak Bluffs reflected the hush of a Monday night in late September. Shops were closed, restaurants empty, and parking was easy to find. A drive past the Lampost and 20byNine revealed that the preferences of bartenders and patrons alike mirrored those in Edgartown. In the debate between sports and politics, there was a clear victor.

Despite the overall hush, the Ritz was packed with people silently lining the bar. Their faces reflected the soft glow of the television screen and the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

“This scares me,” bartender Amanda Andrews, who recently relocated to Oak Bluffs from Florida, said. Ms. Andrews cut lemon slices behind the bar, turning her head to glance at the TV every few minutes. She and the other bartenders bemoaned having to play the debate. They were counting down the minutes until karaoke started at 9:45 pm and they could change the channel.

The mood in the bar was subdued. The few conversations that did occur were carried on with soft voices. When the exchange between the candidates turned to Donald Trump’s tax returns, the bar patrons emitted a collective laugh.

“[Trump] is just worried about rich people,” Ms. Andrews said. “But not us, not normal people. We matter, too. Even though the topic was taxes they didn’t discuss us, the middle class.”

“Secretary Clinton is winning,” said Dan Post, who is from Los Angeles and is visiting his son in Oak Bluffs. “She is more composed and she sounds better. Trump is deflecting questions from the moderator …”

“As usual,” his wife Hillary Post interjected.

“I feel as though Donald is on the defensive,” Ms. Post said. “He’s trying to pump himself up. It’s pretty irritating. This year I’m more in tune with the election because I’m scared of him.”

As the debate progressed on, more people arrived at the bar to await the start of karaoke.

“Oh not this, come on. Turn it off,” someone said as they entered the bar and caught sight of the television. Eventually the screens were changed to football, and music replaced the sound of the candidates’ voices.

Across the street at the Loft, the giant TVs lining the bar alternated between Monday night’s football game and Donald and Hillary, though without sound or captions.

That was fine with bartender Alex Mihaslovic, who said he would rather not listen to the “nonsense.” Mr. Mihaslovic said his general manager encouraged him to put on the sound for the debate if anyone asked. Two groups of people circled the pool tables, apparently unperturbed by the idea of missing what the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates had to say.

Mr. Mihaslovic, who moved to Martha’s Vineyard three and a half years ago from Serbia, was not surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for the debate displayed by his bar patrons. If it was up to him, he said he would not have turned the debate on. Echoing the sentiment of many, Mr. Mihaslovic said he was tired of listening to the news surrounding this year’s election.

“Why would I watch this?” Mr. Mihaslovic said. “It looks like people just want to watch a show.”

The next presidential debate will be 9 pm on Sunday, Oct. 9.