More than 100 people with tickets to the Democratic party presidential debate were shut out Tuesday when the fire marshal announced the Rike Center on Otterbein University’s campus was packed beyond its limits.
Michelle Tomallo, who drove to Westerville, Ohio, from Cleveland, said she followed instructions about when to arrive and got to the front of the line before being told there was no room left in the building. She said organizers also told 100 people who were in the building to leave, while allowing additional VIPs to enter.
The debate seating was limited to 1,500 people, according to representatives from CNN.
“I’m super disappointed,” Tomallo said with tears in her eyes. “To have it be an organizational issue because obviously there wasn’t enough planning or too many tickets [were] given away or whatever happened, that’s super, super, super disappointing.”
In the hours leading up to the debate, a line of audience members wrapped around Otterbein University’s football field while overhead planes circled with banners that read “Vote Anti-Abortion” and “Socialism Destroys Ohio Jobs. Vote Trump!”
The town of Westerville was flooded with supporters, protests, merchandisers and police on bikes and horses.
Supporters of every candidate carried signs and chanted, including a mass of Elizabeth Warren supporters yelling, “Let’s go Warren! Let’s go!” and an “Andrew Yang Meme Museum,” a truck with jumbo-trons on the side displaying pro-Yang memes.
In another spot, a group of people wearing “MAGA” hats chanted, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” while others advocated for Second Amendment rights with signs and open-carried assault weapons.
“It’s very different from what we’re used to in Westerville,” Christine Livingston, a teacher in Westerville City Schools, said. “Normally it’s just not a lot of traffic — people are getting coffee, and some are getting ice cream. Families are going to dinner or dance class.”
Livingston wasn’t the only person with such a point of view.
“Why did they have to do it here?” a bystander muttered as she walked past.