Janet Brown, executive director of the commission, said Centre was one of 12 colleges that completed the entire application process and was in the running prior to Monday. More than 40 institutions inquired about the possibility, but Brown said Centre's combination of the setting and the school's history running the event made an impression.
“Centre has the first-rate facilities necessary, but they also have a team in place that is very professional,” Brown said. “They truly understand the scope of what is required to host a debate like this.”
Monday, the commission announced the three presidential debates will take place at the University of Denver in Colorado, Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. and Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., with Washington University in St. Louis acting as a backup.
Eastern Kentucky University also had been in the running and its bid was supported by several notable political figures, including U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, but was not among the schools chosen Monday.
“Naturally, we are disappointed that we were not selected,” EKU President Doug Whitlock said in a press release.
“But it was an honor to have been considered, and we certainly wish each of the successful campuses the best as they prepare to host debates next year. I am especially pleased for our friends at Centre College.”
Roush’s own experience with staging debates between candidates for the country’s top offices predates his time at Centre. He worked on staging the debate between Bill Clinton and incumbent George H.W. Bush before the 1994 election when he was vice president for planning and assistant to the president of the University of Richmond.
The team that pulled off the 2000 debate at Centre is largely intact, including Vice Chairman of College Relations Richard Trollinger, who has again been heavily involved in the effort to secure the event.
“Over the years, we have really hoped for the chance to do this again,” Trollinger said. “The last time, every day we were climbing the learning curve. I’m looking forward to doing this with the knowledge we have now.”
With throngs of political staff and media set to descend on Danville, work must get under way soon on planning for the influx of thousands of people who will be on and around the campus.
Although the commission limits the number of people allowed inside the Norton Center to 700, it also requires space for 3,000 media members, a group likely to look vastly different than in 2000, when many of the current electronic media sources either didn’t exist or were in their beginning stages.
Clarence Wyatt, a Centre history professor and special assistant to the president, said having an incumbent in the race in 2012, unlike 2000, means the White House press corps also will come to town.
Trollinger noted several of the multi-million dollar capital improvements made at Centre since the last debate as features that enticed the commission to come back to the college and said some of them will play an important role in staging what amounts to a political spectacle.
Sutcliffe Hall, where most of the media organizations will be located, was not air-conditioned and was not suited to high tech connectivity required by many media outlets prior to recent renovations, and the new Campus Center dining facility was completed in 2009.
Brown said preparations for security and other accommodations already are under way and meetings with organizers at Centre will be held soon in Washington, D.C., to plan for how to ensure the debate has the maximum impact. Although the number of people who will be inside the hall will be limited, those involved say steps will be taken to make sure the effect of the event is far reaching.