Applicants touting attributes in bids for debate

October 14, 2003|HERB BROCK

Centre College feels its chances for landing a presidential debate in 2004 are enhanced by the fact that it has exerience as a debate host.

If that's the case, one of the other 13 competitors for the four 2004 debate sites must feel really good about its chances.Washington University in St. Louis has hosted two previous presidential debates and was approved for a third.

Centre feels the small size of the college and the community it's in makes it much easier for the Secret Service to provide security than at a sprawling campus or a big city, which is where a lot of the other applicants are located. But as far as security is concerned, it's hard to beat Columbus State University in Columbus, Ga., which is located next to one of the largest Army bases in the country.

Centre feels its stage for the debate, the 1,500-seat Newlin Hall at the Norton Centre for the Arts, cannot be topped. But one of Centre's competitors is offering a bigger hall with a bigger name, or at least one more prominent in American political history. The University of Kansas is inviting the Commission on Presidential Debates to use a hall named for one of the most famous debaters in American history - Douglas Hall, as in Stephen Douglas of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.


Here is a look at three of the 13 applicants against whom Centre is competing for one of the four final and two backup 2004 presidential and vice-presidential debate sites:

Columbus State University/Columbus, Ga.

This is a combination application from Columbus State, a four-year university with 7,000 students, and the city of Columbus, which has a metropolitan population of 250,000.

Neither the university nor the city has hosted a presidential or vice-presidential debate, but university Director of Public Relations John Lester said major national and international events have been staged there.

"In 1996 we were a satellite site for the Olympics, hosting the volleyball competition, and there have been other major events here," Lester said. "We have a proven track record for hosting events of major magnitude, international as well as national."

Another plus for the combo applicants, he said, is that Columbus is near Fort Benning, a sprawling Army base.

"There are transportation facilities at the fort which can easily accommodate Air Force One as well as the numerous other jets and smaller craft bringing candidates, dignitaries and the media to and from the debate," said Lester. " We also have excellent hotel and motel facilities to house the thousands of political and medial people who would be here.

"And having the fort here also would bolster our case that we can provide excellent security," he said. "The college and city have already planned for the use of local and state law enforcement to support the Secret Service. But the fort gives us an added level of security as well as very tangible evidence of our patriotism."

Lester said the debate would be held in the biggest hall in the city's River City Center for the Performing Arts. The hall seats 2,000, compared to the 1,500 seats at Newlin Hall at the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre, where the 2000 debate was held and a 2004 debate would be held.

The application also will convey the "spirit of university-community partnerships" that exist between the university and the city of Columbus, said Lester.

"We are a growing, progressive university and community and we look forward to the debate showcasing that," he said. "But our main goal is to serve as excellent debate hosts, and we're confident we can do that."

University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kan.

The university, which has more than 29,000 students, is the single applicant but the application has a lot of involvement by and support from the Lawrence community, which has a population of more than100,000, when counting nearby communities. In fact, a university-community organization is handling the application. The Lawrence Sesquecentennial Commission has made the debate a major part of its work and created a special committee to put together the application and oversee the debate, if there is one.

"When we formed the commission we got out the calendar to see what things we could do to bring some national attention to the university and Lawrence and, since we were a little late in applying to be the site of the 2004 Summer Olympics, we thought about hosting a debate," said commission president Clenece Hills with a laugh.

But Hills and the commission are dead serious about the campaign to land a debate and believe both the university and city offer a lot, especially in the way of history and facilities.

"We are located in a the part of the country that is extremely important in American history and was central in the national debate over slavery in the mid-1800's," said Hills. "In a famous compromise, our neighbor to the east, Missouri, was admitted to the Union as a slave state and we came in as a free state."

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