Centre loses bid for presidential debate

November 07, 2003

Centre College, which hosted the 2000 vice-presidential debate and was one of 14 finalists for a 2004 debate, was not among the sites named Thursday when the Commission on Presidential Debates announced its selections for the 2004 general election.

The sites chosen are University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla.; Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.; and Arizona State University in Tempe. Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, was selected to host the vice-presidential debate.

"It is an honor to be a finalist for a general election debate," said Centre President John Roush. "We're obviously disappointed at the outcome for this election cycle, but Centre is going to remain a place where important conversations occur. We feel that our strong performance in 2000 and the serious consideration we received this time around will make us a strong contender in 2008."

Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission, acknowledged the college's success as a 2000 host site. "The Commission on Presidential Debates was honored that Centre College sought to host another General Action Debate in 2004," she said. "In many ways, Centre set the standard for general election debates, in terms of facilities; execution; and, especially, broad public involvement and civic education as the host of the vice-presidential debate in 2000. The Commission hopes that Centre's willingness to participate as a partner in this important work will continue; we look forward to working with Centre again."


Brown added, "I want to especially commend the schoolchildren of Danville and Boyle County for the marvelous materials they submitted in support of Centre's bid to be a debate host."

"Since there was no debate site in the West in 2000, we knew that Arizona State would be able to make a strong case for a western site in 2004," said Richard Trollinger, Centre vice president for college relations. "But we very much enjoyed being in the hunt this time and feel that we've added significantly to our store of knowledge about the process during the last year."

Danville Mayor John W.D. Bowling said he was "disappointed, to say the least" about the commission's decision, but said he "knows Centre gave it 110 percent, as did the local schools and other groups and individuals in the community involved in the process of attracting the debate and hosting it."

While Centre and the community worked hard to get the chance to repeat as a general election debate site and won plaudits from the commission for the job that was done for the 2000 vice-presidential debate, Bowling said that "simply for town our size, it was a feeling I had that the commission probably favored larger cities hosting their presidential debates."

The mayor said he doubted that the community lost points in the area of security because of the small size of the city's police force. He underscored the fact that security would have been, like it was in 2000, a "joint effort" of the city, county and state law enforcement agencies working with the Secret Service and other federal security and law enforcement agencies.

The commission understandably had to put security at or near the top of its list of concerns in evaluating potential debate site in post-September 11 America, but it "would have not been a concern here," said Bowling. "Everything is relative. We are a small community, but we also have less space to make secure. We also have a very capable and well-trained police department and sheriff's department and also an outstanding state police force.

"Security was not a problem or concern (regarding Centre's application to be a debate site), on our part or, as far as I know, theirs (commission and federal security government agencies)," he said, adding that he and Danville Police Chief Jeff Peek had had "several conversations" with "folks involved in overseeing security" for the debate and Peek had been developing a plan.

"If they'd come here, they would have had absolutely no safety or security concerns," Bowling said.

Meanwhile, the mayor said he is confident that if Centre applies to be a debate site in 2008, it would at least be a finalist again.

"We always have hope, and life is all about hope. But I think Centre will have more than hope for 2008," he said. "The college and community have a track record, from 2000, in showing we can be an outstanding debate host."

Centre planning activities to focus attention on the debates

Though Centre will not be a 2004 debate site, the college is tentatively planning several activities to focus attention on the debates and to enhance the political knowledge and involvement of students, other members of the Centre community and members of the general public. These may include:

* All members of Centre's fall 2004 freshman class will read and discuss a book that will provide insight into the American political process.

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