Lincoln, Nixon & CNN: How the Presidential Debate Came to the University of Denver
September 11, 2012
By: Marcus Turner
The historic milestone of the Presidential Debate will leave an indelible mark on Denver, Colorado, and the Rocky Mountain West for years to come. With all of the fanfare that accompanies this event, some may wonder: how did the Debate come to DU? What will the Debate day be like? How will faculty, staff, and students be affected?
The History of Presidential Debates
To fully grasp the scope and magnitude of the Debate, it is helpful to examine how Presidential Debates were started and how, in turn, they became the spectacle they are today. In 1858, Congressman Abraham Lincoln and Senator Stephen A. Douglas were the first to hold a series of debates. In fact, these Illinois senatorial debates would eventually lead to Lincoln's run for the presidency. The historical significance of this debate was made tremendous by one topic: slavery. The nation's interest in slavery and the intensive divide of opinions spurred newspapers to cover these debates and report to a mass audience on each candidate's opinion. The presence of media in this first debate has set the stage for what was to become a nationally and internationally covered event.
The media's presence again became all too familiar to candidates during the 1960 election between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Falling into the annals of debate legend has become Nixon's decision to not wear make-up during the televised debate as he was recovering from the flu. Needless to say, next to the telegenic Kennedy, the image battle became a losing one for Nixon. From this Debate forward, the media's presence and importance has become paramount for candidates. Debates are now the venue to display charisma, character, and the poise that has become the standard for leading the nation.
University of Denver: Debate Host
With the media being the primary audience of any Presidential Debate the process of deciding a Debate location hinges upon space and facilities to accommodate the caravan of media, the onslaught of security and the distinguished candidates. The organization that delves into the logistical factors of Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates is the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). CPD is a non-profit organization that has sponsored and produced all Presidential Debates since 1987. The CPD receives applications from host institutions and following an initial screening, sends a preliminary team to investigate the site. During the University of Denver site visit, the team was impressed with the 450,000 square foot Ritchie Center and its multitude of spaces. The space here on campus as well as Colorado's swing state status in this election certainly played pivotal roles in bringing the Debate to the University on October 3.
Once the University of Denver was selected as a host site, the anticipation immediately became palpable. Organizations, departments, and schools on campus have held political events that have set the stage for the Debate. Political luminaries such as Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice have visited the campus as guest speakers. The Debate Event Series has presented a number of lectures and workshops on a diverse series of topics. These events and others have heightened the University community's anticipation of the Debate itself. The University will be closed the day of the Debate but will be offering a large community gathering: DebateFest. Featuring local food trucks, well-known musicians, and children's activities, DebateFest will provide faculty, staff, students, alumni and local community members a chance to be on site and participate in this historic occasion.
Facts and Figures about the Debate at the University of Denver
Credentialed media expected = 3,000
Foreign media expected = 400
Televisions placed in Hamilton Gym = 55
Major networks covering the Debate = 6
Guests expected at DebateFest = 5,000
Gigawatts needed to back up all technology = 3.2
Food trucks at DebateFest = 10
Alumni-owned Food trucks at DebateFest = 8