TORONTO – Sparks are expected to fly when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face off in the first presidential debate of the U.S. election, and viewers north of the border are planning to watch with anticipation usually reserved for prize fights or championship sports games.
Canadians and American expats alike are gearing up for the debate that could make or break the campaign, gathering in homes and bars to catch an exchange they expect will be as entertaining as it is informative.
While the political impact of the debate is not to be minimized, part of the appeal lies in waiting for Trump “to say something crazy,” said Omar Lujan, 36, a researcher at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Lujan and roughly 10 friends, all in their 30s, are planning a viewing party Monday night at one of their homes, where they can drink beers and make comments as the candidates clash.
Trump’s extreme and at times outlandish statements make for good TV but also raise the alarm over the possible future of American policy, he said. The Republican candidate’s stance on immigration is of particular interest to Lujan, who hails from Peru and has family in the U.S.
“I find it quite entertaining but also a bit uneasy,” he said.
The 90-minute debate is considered must-see TV by many and is expected to draw an estimated audience of 75 million or more viewers, with many more expected to keep tabs on the event online.
“It’ll be more like the Superbowl than the Superbowl,” said Alex Smith, an American expat who has been living in Canada for 46 years.
Smith has booked space at Eton House, a bar in east Toronto, to watch the debate on a big screen with dozens of others, many of them expats like him. As of this weekend, close to 50 people had indicated they would attend, he said.
It’s the first time Smith has organized such an event, though he follows American politics “fairly closely.”
“This (debate) is probably one of the more important ones in our time,” he said. “Obviously it’s going to be entertaining, I think some people might be going for the entertainment value, but in my opinion it’s a very important debate as far as what direction the world is going to be going in.”
At least one U.S. political party is also hosting screenings across the country in an effort to rally the expat vote.
But Democrats Abroad, the party’s official arm outside the U.S., said everyone is welcome at their events taking place in cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg.
The group’s spokeswoman, Julie Buchanan, said they are already considering having an overflow room for the Toronto viewing at Pauper’s Pub, since the bar only has a capacity of 150.
Buchanan said the “unusual election cycle” has generated more interest from Canadians than ever before. “People can’t wait to see them face off against each other — I can’t either,” she said.
People are already making side bets as to the outcome of the debate, she said, and the group is making debate bingo cards to add to the fun. “I’m sure there’ll be jeering in the audience and people will be booing and cheering,” she said.
Republicans Abroad, which represents that party outside the U.S., has not advertised any similar events.