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Wyatt shares knowledge of general election debate protocol

September 30, 2016

The eyes of the nation were focused on Hofstra University this past Monday as Donald Trump took on Secretary Hillary Clinton for the first presidential debate. However, many students don’t know that the President of Monmouth College has direct connections to the presidential debates.

A college with roughly the same number of students of Monmouth, Centre College in Danville, Kentucky does not seem to be a place likely for a vice presidential debate. The City of Danville, with a population of 16,000, also doesn’t lend itself immediately for a debate. However, Monmouth College President Clarence Wyatt was instrumental in getting the vice presidential debate in 2000, with then Senator Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney going head to head, and in 2012, when Congressman Paul Ryan went up against Vice President Joe Biden.

According to Dr. Wyatt, the idea to host the 2000 debate first came around from Centre President John Roush. At the time, Wyatt was the special assistant to the president as well as a faculty member at Centre. During the 1992 campaign, Roush had been the executive assistant to the president at Richmond College when Richmond hosted one of the 1992 debates with Ross Perot, Vice President George HW Bush, and Governor Bill Clinton. He continued on to say that “When he came to Centre, he said it was a great educational experience for our students and got Richmond a lot of national notice. He then said we ought to think about doing it here.”

Wyatt says that “the one thing that people need to remember is that a general election debate is first and foremost a television show” and that the focus is making sure that the debate goes on as planned. The debate hall must be able to function properly as a television studio and the media hall must be able to support the journalists who attend. In order to get the debate, Wyatt said that “you must meet a complex set of technical requirements. For example, you have to be able to have the tempature over the two podiums under the television lights under 65* by only being able to move x amount of cubic feet of air per minute because you don’t want to move their hair.” Centre also hosted nearly 5,000 members of the media in 2012.

After the 2000 debate, Centre College was given great praise for their handling of it, with former CBS anchor Dan Rather saying “it was the best debate he had ever seen” and a Washington Post reporter saying “It was Alexei de Tocqueville meets Norman Rockwell.”

The 2012 debate gained even more praise, with Commission on Presidential Debates executive director Janet Brown saying that “they aced it in 2000 and this year did even better.”

Jacob Marx
Political Editor

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