NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Darryl Thompson furrowed his brows, wearily rested his chin on his fist and kept repeating one phrase as he watched Democratic presidential candidates battle one another for the better part of two hours Tuesday night: "Come together."
Thompson, a 53-year-old truck driver, watched the debate with 50 other voters at a viewing party ahead of the Democratic Party's state primary on Saturday. He wasn't the only one worried yet somewhat optimistic about Democrats' chances of defeating President Donald Trump.
But Thompson could hardly stomach the contentious, and at times chaotic, atmosphere onstage half an hour away, as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg fended off attacks on their past words, deeds and political records. For him, the divisiveness among the candidates made for good television but bad politics.
"Some of it got out of hand," said Thompson, a resident of nearby Summerville who said it was the first time he'd attended a debate watch party. "I cannot stress this enough: We have to stand together.
"The Republican Party has shown us how to do it" by rallying behind Trump, said Thompson, a Democrat who's considering voting for Sanders after his victory last week in Nevada's caucuses. "We should follow their lead. They're not bright, but they're together."
The watch party had the trappings of a Southern backyard picnic -- fried chicken and fish, red rice and beans, pink lemonade, three flavors of pudding and easy conversation. Hosted by the nonprofit group Black Votes Matter, it was designed as a forum where African Americans could talk freely with each other about the concerns affecting their communities and learn about the presidential hopefuls.
It was also a chance to indulge in the guilty pleasure of talking to the TV while others are trying to listen -- another trapping of Southern culture.
"Thank you!" one woman across the room shouted when former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg pointed out that no candidates of color were onstage to talk about issues important to the state's majority black Democratic electorate.
"Short and sweet," another woman said sarcastically when the less-than-towering Bloomberg joked about his height when asked about misconceptions about him -- "That I'm 6 feet tall" -- and delivered the most concise closing remarks of the night.
But in South Carolina, as in much of the South, African Americans such as Thompson and most of the people who gathered for the party at a shopping-center event space in the city of North Charleston know it's unseemly to drag family business out into the public.