BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Like with the past two debates, Republican voters in Kern County said they were looking for breakthrough moments for candidates that are not Donald Trump.
Two hours of Q & A later in the third Republican presidential debate, the top two names for local GOP voters were again Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Many did agree, though, Senator Tim Scott and former governor Chris Christie performed much better this time around.
GOP analyst Cathy Abernathy said, “International issues for both Chris Christie and Nikki Haley seem to be their strongest points. DeSantis is excellent on domestic, which of course we have plenty of issues there with economy and crime.”
Not on the stage – but not forgotten – former President Trump. An overwhelming majority of attendees raised their hands when asked who would vote for Mr. Trump then and there.
“Former President Trump is who I’d like to see in the White House,” Kern GOP voter Linda Jost said.
And when I asked another local Republican voter, Don Marquez, if it’s safe to say Trump has his vote, he responded, “Well we don’t have a nominee do we? So I think it might be a little premature… I’m open minded.”
Most here in Kern either support Trump in his entirety or say they’re open-minded but would vote for the party’s ultimate nominee.
Kern’s GOP voters told 17 News economy and the border remain top of mind.
“For Republican voters in Kern County, they’re anti-Biden,” Abernathy explained.
She continued: “The Democrats are either going to have to distance themselves from the positions Joe Biden took or they’re not gonna be able to win because people don’t feel good about the economy, and they don’t feel good about crime in the streets.”
And cheers in the room when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stated he’d lower gas prices and make America energy independent.
Haley took it a step further, saying America must become energy dominant.
Yet, three debates in, what hasn’t changed is who dominates the polls: Mr. Trump. And some voters said they doubt much will change when it’s actually time to vote.
They said no candidate has had a defining breakthrough moment.
“It is really tough,” said Tim Collins, chair of the Kern County Young Republicans. “This is the third one, we didn’t see a lot of change after the first two.”
A new New York Times and Siena College poll reported Trump leads Biden in five of six key swing states, excluding Wisconsin. These were districts Biden won in 2020. According to reports, the president is also losing steam among younger, more diverse voters.
Some Kern voters said they can see why.
“I think Biden’s performance over the whole last year. You start with Afghanistan in August, start with the fact that these other foreign countries are all ganging together against us, that’s very serious, very threatening, and I think people are feeling that,” Abernathy offered.
And speaking for the younger voter base, Collins said, “The economy is teetering, and trying to get your start in the world and a job and a house when interest rates are sky high and housing prices are still up is making it really tough for a lot of young people.”
Collins added when it comes to the economy, Republicans have a better talking point and record. He thinks the party must build a stronger argument on that for 2024.
Another national and local issue voters want a stronger argument for is abortion.
Many in Kern say they are pro life. One voter, for instance, told 17 News the fetus as a citizen inside the womb. Another described abortion as “murder.”
Another voter said she wishes the GOP had a better, more consistent message on abortion. She believed if the party loses this next election, it will be because of abortion.
The night concluded with Trump, still in the hearts of most in the room, with DeSantis and Haley not too far off.
Some offered suggestions the five candidates would make for a good vice president or as part of Trump’s cabinet.
Lingering criticism of candidates included beliefs DeSantis is too “wishy-washy,” in the middle of the road. Folks agreed he’s not MAGA yet also not not MAGA , leading to comments it’s not “his time” to be president.
Similar comments on entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy – while many viewed him favorably, they agreed he was too young, too inexperienced and that it was, again, not his time.
Notably in his closing statement, Ramawamy said to the Democratic Party, “End this farce that Joe Biden is going to be your nominee. Biden should step aside, end his candidacy now so we can see if it’s Newsom or Michelle Obama or whoever else, just tell us the truth so we can have an honest debate.”
Voters hollered, agreeing they need to know who the GOP is actually running against so they can pick their candidate.
Voters said they are looking forward to the candidate pool narrowing down further.