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Monday, October 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Residents cheer, jeer and tune out debate at Spokane movie theater

Some people go to the movie theater to escape reality. Others go to watch reality in real-time – with a large bucket of popcorn in one hand and a cup of soda in the other.

For about three dozen who filed into Auditorium 12 of the Regal Cinemas at NorthTown Mall on Sunday night, it wasn’t just another evening at the movies. It was the opportunity to watch the second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on a screen as tall as most people’s houses, away from the constant nagging of social media or the responsibilities waiting for them at home.

“I thought it would be awesome to watch it on the big screen,” said Ann Finke, who dragged her 16-year-old daughter Nakayla along with her. Nakayla’s face was buried in her phone, but she did look up long enough to say, “I don’t really care. I’m just here because she wanted me to be here.”

On Thursday, Regal Entertainment Group announced 206 of its theaters nationwide would show the debate for free. The announcement pitted the two presidential nominees head-to-head, billing the debate as “Clinton vs. Trump” and likening it to “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” or “Alien vs. Predator.”

And in some cases, the hype worked. Steve Osman, a Bernie Sanders supporter and anti-Trumper, came to the Spokane theater because he wanted to kick back and watch the sparks fly, especially after Trump and Clinton both received October surprises Friday. And because he doesn’t have cable TV at home.

“I’m not gonna vote for either of them, but in my vote, it’s the lesser of the two evils, so it’s Clinton,” he said.

But for others, such as Aaron Bonnand, the presidential race had already gotten too out of hand with the “he-said-she-said” rhetoric dominating headlines. Instead of all that, he came to watch them talk about policy – though he wasn’t confident it wouldn’t turn into a shouting match.

“I think they’re going to be going into more superficial issues,” the 37-year-old said. “I don’t see a lot of new policy coming into it.”

During the debate, the mostly empty theater kept quiet, as one would expect in a darkened movie theater. At certain points – when Trump said, “We’re going to make America great again,” or when bickering erupted between the two – the crowd would laugh, cheer or sneak in a jab at either candidate. The soft glow of phones illuminated some people’s faces as they checked social media, while others seemed to sleep through the entire ordeal.

Still, some watched nervously, reminded that Election Day looms around the corner.

“I’m frustrated,” said Sandra Rost. “Too much name-calling, and I agree with what Hillary said: We need to get to the issues.”

Rost, 52, didn’t vote in the past two presidential elections, either because she didn’t have the time or because she wasn’t all that interested in politics. But whether it’s her love of Clinton, her fear of Trump winning, or a combination of both, she’s going to make sure her ballot is marked come Nov. 8.

“I will this time,” she said. “There’s a lot at stake.”

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