Tuesday, June 25

Republican Presidential Debate: Live Updates, Analysis and Fact-Check

As the fierce competitors traded blows, the bar patrons watched with rapt attention. When their favorite combatant came through in a big moment, they cheered.

“Got it!” Lyle Fini exclaimed, raising his fist in excitement.

The customers at Johnny’s Hall of Fame, a Des Moines bar, weren’t rooting for Nikki Haley or watching Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie trade barbs on the Republican debate stage Wednesday night. They were tuned in to the battle that mattered more to many Iowans: the University of Iowa versus Iowa State women’s basketball game, in which Caitlin Clark, the star Iowa Hawkeye, had a chance to surpass 3,000 career points.

The G.O.P. debate, held at the University of Alabama, offered perhaps the last opportunity for Iowa voters to hear from candidates on a national stage before the caucuses next month. But in downtown Des Moines, at least, hardly anyone planned to watch — or even knew it was happening.

“I had no idea — I didn’t even know that was a thing,” said Brendan Kelley, 37, the owner of the Stuffed Olive, where diners were listening to a local artist sing and play guitar. If they did turn their attention to the lounge’s televisions, Mr. Kelley said, they would probably watch sports or just “whatever.” One nearby bar played an episode of “Survivor.” Another showed 1990s music videos on large TVs.

Dave Cook, a 45-year-old bartender at the Royal Mile, seemed bewildered to be asked whether his bar’s patrons would want to switch the TVs over to politics. “We were not planning on it, no,” Mr. Cook said.

His manager, Izzy Nanke, offered another explanation: The bar tried to stay away from violent programming, like mixed martial arts, to prevent drunken brawls from breaking out. The debate, it seemed, also fell under that category.

“We’re not allowed to show fights,” Ms. Nanke said.

The ignorance of — or, at best, apathy toward — the debate underlined the challenge any candidate not named Donald J. Trump has had in breaking through to the Republican electorate. Complicating matters was the fact that the debate was on NewsNation — far from a household name — and the CW, rather than one of the major broadcast channels.

That’s not to say nobody in Iowa tuned in. Some candidates, like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Mr. Ramaswamy, hosted watch parties elsewhere in the state, as did local groups like the Iowa Young Republicans. More politically active voters may have watched at home.

But for the average bar-goer on Wednesday, it was unclear when, or even where, the debate was taking place.

“Where’s it at?” Dave Poyzer, an independent voter, wanted to know. He was surprised to learn it wasn’t up the street at the Iowa Events Center.

Inside Johnny’s Hall of Fame, Mr. Fini, 25, was two beers in and ready to watch Ms. Clark break the 3,000-point milestone. (She did.) But he said he had been following the primary to some extent and liked Mr. Ramaswamy and Ms. Haley. He knew the debate was that night and said he would consider watching.

But first, he had an important question: “What time’s it at?”

Mr. Fini was informed that it had already started. He shrugged, gesturing to the empty glasses in front of him and the basketball game on the TV behind the bar, and said, “Well …”