Campaign 2016: Next Stop – St. Louis

Brian Kelly (@brpkelly)

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The next time Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton meet each other face-to-face will be Oct. 9 in St. Louis at Washington University.

It will be the fifth debate hosted by the school since 1992, including the 2008 vice-presidential match-up between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

For the university’s Debate Steering Committee Chair Steve Givens, his hopes for the debate here are basic.

“People get into the debate and out of the debate, enjoy the debate safely,” he says.

Givens says the debate committee, which has about 50 members, began meeting in January.

“The event like this is about so much more that just what people are going to see on TV,” Givens says. “It is everything from the security to the programming that happens outside of this building … it’s getting ready for 2,500, 3,000 members of the media to cover this event. There’s a lot of planning and a lot of people involved.”

Construction began last week. Metal detectors stand at the ready near the entrance. The carpets are down and dividers up in the spin room. The tables are down and banners up in the media room. The gym, where the debate will be held, won’t be transformed into a stage until just days before the event.

“The main reason is,”Givens says, “this is our athletic complex. We have students who want to work out here. We have sports teams that are in season right now. We try to keep this building open for them as long as we can.”

Hosting a debate costs the university up to $5 million, $2 million of which goes to the Commission on Presidential Debates. And while the publicity is nice, Givens says that’s not the reason they get involved.

He says the admissions department tells him they’ve never seen a spike in interest in the university after hosting a debate. “I always say, it’s really great while it lasts, but it’s a little bit like hosting the Super Bowl. Who did that four years ago?  It’s certainly important, and we get a lot of good visibility out of this. If we were doing it only for that reason I’m not sure the bang would be worth the buck.”

The real benefit, according to Givens, is creating a ‘buzz’ on campus. “That’s really the reason we do these debates,” he says. “There’s really no other good reason to do it than to create this experience for our students.”

Givens believes that buzz has contributed to the registration of 2,000 students to vote.

“We’re happy they’re responding and they’re going to go to the polls, not only registered, but maybe more educated than they would have been if this weren’t happening here.”

About 100 students will get an up-close education. They will get the university’s allotment of tickets.

“There’ll be somewhere around 900 people watching the debate from our balcony looking down on the floor. Those tickets get divided up between the campaigns. The Commission on Presidential Debates has their own reserved for their people. After all those are given away, we’re given a chunk of tickets.”

Those tickets will be distributed to the lucky students, through a lottery.

So as Washington University prepares to host its fifth debate, including one in 1992 it had only one week to prepare for, Givens is confident it will be ready.

“We don’t get too shocked or surprised by what might come down the pike.”

(TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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