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The time-honored tradition of debate watch parties now limited due to the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s how Anne Arundel is watching Trump face Biden.

FILE - In this combination of file photos, former Vice President Joe Biden, left, speaks in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020, and President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington on April 5, 2020.
FILE - In this combination of file photos, former Vice President Joe Biden, left, speaks in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020, and President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington on April 5, 2020. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

During a typical presidential campaign, organizations, clubs and committees across the political spectrum would host in-person watch parties for each debate. Groups would cram into restaurants and bars and living rooms with chairs oriented toward large screens while they ate, drank and provided live commentary on candidates' policies and personalities.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed things this year. Most, but not all, organized events have been canceled due to the risky nature of gathering during the coronavirus pandemic. Some Republicans are holding in-person events, though attendance is limited and costs money to enter. Democrats are meeting virtually this year.

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At 9 p.m. Tuesday, Republican incumbent President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice-President Joe Biden, will face off two days before absentee ballot drop boxes open in Anne Arundel County. The debate will be the first of three scheduled before Nov. 3. It will be streamed on www.capitalgazette.com.

The debate will be moderated by Fox News anchor and Annapolis' resident Chris Wallace, who has said he intends to cover the coronavirus, economic issues, racial tensions and protests with the candidates.

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Most Anne Arundel residents will have no choice but to watch the debate from their homes, set to air for 90 minutes commercial-free on every major network, or stream it on a computer or cell phone.

The Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee is selling $45 tickets for a watch party at Glory Days Grill in Edgewater. Republican congressional candidate Charles Anthony will hold a watch party immediately following a campaign fundraising event in Glen Burnie, which voters can attend with a $60 ticket. Anthony is challenging U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes in Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District.

Maryland Republican Party Treasurer Chris Rosenthal said the group is not organizing any statewide events because it made more sense for the counties to organize their own local parties. He plans to watch the debate alongside the central committee in Edgewater.

Rosenthal expects the debate to be critical for the contentious race, and said he expects it will highlight “the split in the country."

“It’s just two different views of the world, two different views of how we do things as a country and where we are going,” Rosenthal said. “It’s going to be interesting.”

Democrats who don’t live in the same household will mostly only gather via Zoom. The Maryland Democratic Party is hosting a virtual watch party as well as the District 30 Democratic Club and another Democratic group, Anne Arundel for Biden.

The event will serve both as a fun social event and as a way to organize volunteers, something that has become more challenging during the pandemic, said Keanuu Smith-Brown, District 30 club president.

“You can’t just come to watch the debates and not do things — the actual work that’s required to get the vote out,” he said.

The Anne Arundel Democratic Central Committee had hosted primary debate watch parties before the pandemic struck in March. But the group isn’t hosting any in-person debate watch parties this fall to protect their members' safety, said Thea Boykins-Wilson, chair of the county Democratic party.

“We want our citizens to stay safe,” she said.

The District 32 Republican Club won’t be having a party, said the President Steve Clark Reigle. Most restaurants he talked to were too nervous about being fined or shut down if too many people gathered, or did not abide by coronavirus restrictions. Same for District 32 Democrats who canceled their in-person events.

Similar events for the general election on Nov. 3 are being discussed, said Don Rau, District 32 Democrats vice president.

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Two more debates are scheduled for Oct. 15 and Oct. 22. A single debate between Vice-President Mike Pence and Biden’s running mate U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is set for Oct. 7.

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