Washington University in St. Louis selected to host a 2004 presidential debate

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Washington University in St. Louis will host the presidential debate scheduled for 8 p.m. CDT on Oct. 8, 2004, according to an announcement made today by Paul G. Kirk Jr. and Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., co-chairmen of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). This is the fourth consecutive time the university has been selected by the CPD to host a debate.

The university hosted the first presidential debate held prior to the 1992 election, was selected to host a presidential debate in 1996 that eventually was canceled, and hosted the third and last presidential debate of the 2000 campaign season.

News media turned out Thursday afternoon in the Field House to hear Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton announce that the University will hold a presidential debate on Oct 8., 2004.

“I believe health care will be a critical topic for the 2004 presidential debate,” said Steven H. Lipstein, president and chief executive officer of BJC HealthCare. “The United States is home to the finest health care in the world. But we are facing serious challenges to our ability to maintain the exceptional quality of care our citizens have come to expect, and yet keep that care affordable and accessible for those who need it.”

The university is once again offering the same facilities that were made available for the 1992, 1996 and 2000 debates. The expertise and experience of the faculty and staff combined with enthusiastic volunteer assistance from students have been a major factor in the success of previous debates at the university, Wrighton noted.

All tickets to attend the Washington University debate are assigned by the CPD. As was done in 1992 and 2000, any debate tickets that may be assigned to Washington University will be distributed only to students, who will be selected in a university-wide lottery, Wrighton said.

Debate organizers announced that the other presidential debates will be held at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., on Sept. 30, 2004, and at Arizona State University in Tempe on Oct. 13, 2004. The vice presidential debate will be held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland on Oct. 5, 2004.

The CPD, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization established in 1987, is responsible for selecting the venues and producing the presidential debates.

“Each election cycle, we hear from a growing number of communities interested in hosting a debate,” said Fahrenkopf and Kirk in a statement from the CPD. “We are honored by their commitment to be part of these historic events. Taking the debates to campuses around the country allows the CPD to engage thousands of young people in the political process through first-hand participation.”

The Washington University Field House, located in the university’s Athletic Complex, was the site of the first nationally televised three-candidate presidential debate on Oct. 11, 1992 — featuring President George Bush, Gov. Bill Clinton and Reform Party candidate Ross Perot.

That year, the university had just seven days to transform the hardwood-floor gymnasium of the Field House into a red-carpeted debate hall. In 1996, the university was again selected as a debate site, but the event was later canceled when the number of presidential debates was reduced from three to two.

In 2000, the university had nine months to prepare for the last presidential debate between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, which was moderated by Jim Lehrer, executive editor and anchor of PBS’ “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.”

The format of the Oct. 17, 2000, debate was a “town-hall meeting” in the university’s Field House, where the candidates sat on stools facing an audience of about 140 St. Louis-area voters. These town hall participants — undecided voters selected by the Gallup organization — asked the candidates questions.

Some 900 persons — media, dignitaries, invited guests and more than 150 Washington University students — viewed the debate from the Field House’s upper bleacher seats. Millions more worldwide watched the televised 2000 debate, in which Bush and Gore discussed for 90 minutes foreign and domestic policy issues.

The debate is expected to attract more than 1,500 members of the media to St. Louis along with the candidates’ campaign staffs and supporters.

“The debate gives us the chance to put our best effort forward in front of media from around the world and a huge national television audience,” said St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission Carole Moody. “This will certainly be one of the most important events St. Louis has ever been asked to host.” (SLCVC news release on debate’s importance to St. Louis)

Editor’s note:

For photos or more information about the presidential debate hosted by Washington University, go online to debate.wustl.edu.