On the other hand, there was an actual sporting event: the underdog Washington Nationals seeking to make their first-ever World Series by completing a sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals. And judging by a wildly unscientific street-level survey, sports won the night by a fair margin — as did the Nationals, who won 7-4.
Normally, alcohol-fueled debate-watching parties are a regular feature of Washington during the presidential season. But on Tuesday it was hard to actually find a bar showing the debate. The management at Bullfeathers, a historic Capitol Hill watering hole, had originally intended to show both events, but ended up just showing the game. Down Pennsylvania Avenue, the manager at legendary local dive bar Tune Inn said there was "no way in hell" he would put the debate on any of his screens.
The only place where politics definitively triumphed may have been at Gypsy Sally's in Georgetown — but that was an event sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign, where more than 50 people exclusively watched the debate in total silence.
One of the few places The Associated Press could find where people were watching both events was Capitol Hill's Hawk and Dove tavern. And even there baseball won the popular vote. "We thought everybody would want the game on mute until after the debate finished. But we asked everybody and only two people wanted the sound up for the debate," said bar manager Neptaly Escobar, who put the debate on one of the four screens above the bar. "People are really excited for the Nats. This has never happened before."
Not everybody was thrilled with that outcome. Across the room, a group of slightly disgruntled young men watched a separate TV showing the debate with closed captioning. They occasionally talked back to the candidates onscreen.
"It's incredibly unsatisfying to watch this way," said Ramzi, a Georgetown student who declined to give his full name. "But this is a historic night for the city. It trumps the importance of the debate tonight."
Over at the bar, a few people were splitting their attention between both events. Megan, a congressional staffer, said she walked past multiple Capitol Hill bars before finding one that was showing the debate.
"Although I can't hear, I can still follow and enjoy a beer," said Megan, who also declined to give her last name. "On any other night, this place would be half-full of people all watching the debate."
Megan chalked up the night's viewing habits to two main factors. On the sports side, there's the particularly compelling narrative of this year's Nationals team, which lost their best player to free agency and sneaked into the playoffs as a wild card team. On the political side, Megan said the fourth debate comes at a particularly non-compelling time in the process, with the stage still packed with 12 candidates fighting for airtime.
"There's fewer people zoned in on it at this point. People are a bit burnt out but they'll get into it again when the field narrows a bit."