BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A place to pitch their candidacy and ideas, not to attack each other or former president Donald Trump. That’s how Kern County Republican voters described the second GOP presidential primary debate stage.

Local GOP voters gathered Wednesday night to watch the debate at KC’s Steakhouse.

If the first debate watch party in August was all about getting to know the candidates without Mr. Trump in the picture, this one focused on which of these seven could rise above the others, as Mr. Trump continues to dominate the polls.

“I’m hoping to see a real breakout of one of the candidates right now,” said Kevin Oliver, a local real estate broker, county planning commissioner. “I don’t think that we saw that in the last one.”

But despite Trump’s repeated absence from the debate stage, voters agreed his presence still loomed over.

“I think it’s hard to [stand out] because Trump really sucks out so much of the energy in the room, so to speak, and he’s not even there,” said Tim Collins, chair of the Kern County Young Republicans. “But I think a lot of the voters, at least here locally, like to see a lot of pushback against the Democrats and their policies.

Clayton Campbell, a member of the Kern County Republican Central Committee, added, “After the last debate, even though they put out a positive message and they scored a lot of points, they didn’t really do a lot of damage to him in the polls. “What we’re gonna have to see is people need to separate themselves from Trump if they’re going to try to take that number one spot from him.”

Ron DeSantis was described as the frontrunner among those on the debate stage, as well as Kern’s GOP base. Attendees 17 News spoke to said the Florida governor had the best answer on drugs and the southern border.

And during a mid-debate check in, many said DeSantis was standing out the most.

“They all need to score some big points tonight,” said Campbell. “I would think, though, there are some candidates quite frankly who stand no chance in this primary. Die-hard supporters of Trump will tell you none of these candidates have a chance.”

Voters also shared they’re hoping for specific answers to specific issues they believe are plaguing the nation, such as border security and the resulting drug and fentanyl epidemic, as well as the economy and high inflation.

“Our state is in chaos, this country is in chaos, as it relates to criminal law,” said Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer. “Crime is out of control, I want to know what they’re gonna do about it.”

Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy and Tim Scott — Kern’s top four names.

Those here said while they favor Trump and would vote for him, they’re open minded about the rest of the bunch and deem any of them better than President Joe Biden.

At the Kern County Fair for instance, “[The Kern GOP] is] running a pistachio poll, and we give everyone three pistachios, and they can put in the jar of any of the seven candidates or put all of them in one candidate,” explained GOP analyst Cathy Abernathy. “And I have to say, we’ve had to empty the Trump jar just cause it keeps overflowing.”

According to Abernathy, the other candidate jars have yet needed to be emptied. And at the booth, 30-50 people are registering as Republican, per day.

On this, Campbell told 17 News he’s glad the election isn’t today, as local voters are likely uneducated on the candidates, this early on in the election cycle.

He credited the Trump jar’s cornucopia of pistachios on the potential of participants simply voting for who they know best — the former president of the United States.

He also stated it’s too early for Trump to take confidence in a victory — the national polls not a full-picture indicator, especially on how many delegates each candidate can get during state primaries.

Though locals describe Trump’s repeated absence as strategic, many agree they want answers from him too, hopefully at a future debate. They explained if it were up to them, all presidential candidates would be on the debate stage, together.

Specifically, people said they want to hear Mr. Trump compare the successes during his time in office to what Biden has accomplished, as well as expand on what he would’ve done differently.

Supporters said they know who Trump is and what he stands for but want clarity on today’s issues.

“President Trump of course has a hundred percent name ID,” said Abernathy. “And our primary isn’t till March 5, voting starts February 5. You will find the month of January, there will be a lot of campaigning going on. And so things may change, but I think there’s a lot of commitment in Kern County for the kind of conservatism that Donald Trump showed as president.”

Abernathy also said the GOP nominee should be the one to point out how Biden’s failed at regulating drugs and securing the border.

Another topic at the top of voters’ minds nationwide — candidate’s age, particularly that of Biden. Discussing Biden’s deteriorating health, Campbell said Democrats should “think twice” about making him their candidate.

But he did agree Trump too, would be over 80 at the end of his potential second term in office.

“If we have Donald Trump versus Joe Biden, then we as Republicans lose the argument as to oh, he’s too old to be president,” said Campbell. “That is a question that both sides need to answer for themselves, do we want to be the one who presents the contrast, somebody who’s younger and more vigorous…”