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Inside Hillary Clinton's Debate Watch War Room

The Clinton campaign's debate watch war room was actually just a conference room with a big-screen TV at the front. Fifteen or so staffers huddled over their laptops ready to pounce.
Tamara Keith

While the Republican candidates debated Thursday night, Democratic campaigns tried to make the most of the moment, offering rapid response.

At the Hillary Clinton campaign headquarters on the 11th floor of an office building in Brooklyn, N.Y., about 50 staff members gathered to watch the debate. Some were working. Others were holding beers (at least one wrapped in the "Chillary Clinton" beer koozie sold in the campaign merch store).

There was a "war room." Though, as they probably all are, it was actually just a conference room with a big-screen TV at the front and 15 or so staffers huddled over their laptops ready to pounce.

Just before the festivities began, campaign manager Robby Mook rallied the troops.

"They're probably going to say some things about Hillary Clinton that are not true as well. So our fact checkers, let's give it up for our research team," shouted Mook to cheers.

Clinton's team tweeted out the first fact check just 13 minutes into the debate. It came in response to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's answer to a question about whether he has enough experience.

When Rubio said "if this election is a resume competition, then Hillary Clinton's gonna be the next president," cheers went up in Clinton HQ. And the campaign tweeted that it rated Rubio's statement true.

During the debate, reporters were kept in a press filing room decorated with giant posters displaying quotes from Republican candidates heaping praise on Clinton.

Out in the headquarters maze of cubicles, staffers were busy making graphics and GIFs, highlighting quotes from the debate. The tweets came every few minutes. And during commercial breaks, Mook offered instant spin to reporters.

"I think they're digging the hole deeper," Mook said to a small gaggle of reporters on the Clinton beat.

But his attention quickly turned back to the TV.

"Don't get between me and Donald," Mook said.

Trump, that is. At one point Donald Trump said Clinton accepted the invitation to his wedding only because he gave a lot of money to the Clinton Foundation. So she had to come. Clinton campaign communications director Jen Palmieri said that wasn't it. They were acquaintances.

"It hurt her feelings, I'm sure, to hear him suggest that he didn't want her there for her company," said Palmieri.

Meanwhile, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders watched from Washington, D.C. His spokesman says they "splurged" and got pizza.

Sanders tweeted throughout the debate, though it was really a staffer sitting next to him on a tan leather couch typing up the senator's thoughts.

In the end, Sanders complained that no one talked about income inequality or climate change.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's campaign adopted the hash tag #WWMOMD ("What Would Martin O'Malley Do") for its rapid response throughout the night.

Hillary Clinton wasn't at her campaign headquarters for the debate, though. She was in California at a fundraiser attended by 250 people. She raised more than $600,000 in 90 minutes. Kim Kardashian (the entrepreneur who is famous for being famous) and her rapper husband Kanye West were among those in attendance. Kardashian blasted out a selfie she shot with Clinton to all her social media channels. West looks to be photo bombing in the background.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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