Behind the decision for Belmont to host their second Presidential debate in twelve years

The neighboring university will host the final presidential debate Oct. 2020

Langford+Auditorium.
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Behind the decision for Belmont to host their second Presidential debate in twelve years

Langford Auditorium.

Langford Auditorium.

Mattigan Kelly

Langford Auditorium.

Mattigan Kelly

Mattigan Kelly

Langford Auditorium.

Immanual John Milton, Deputy Campus Editor

The last presidential debate, between the Democratic and Republican nominees, will be just down the road, hosted by Belmont University from 8 to 10:30 p.m. CST Oct. 22, 2020 in the Curb Event Center Arena. Belmont was chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debate (CPD), a nonpartisan and non-profit group, from five other cities including Hartford, Omaha, Ann Arbor, South Bend and Salt Lake City.

Belmont is one of three sites to host the three presidential debates — the other sites being the University of Notre Dame and the University of Michigan. Belmont hosted the 2008 presidential debate between then-presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain and was an alternate debate site in 2016 for the debate between then-presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The location selection of the presidential debates is done by the board of directors of CPD based on review of the site proposal, site surveys and input from the White House television pool and federal law enforcement. 

CPD Executive Director Janet Brown said in an email to the Hustler that CPD’s goal for their debates are to educate, which is why almost all of the debates have been held on college campuses.

“Collaboration with higher education centers not only furthers this goal [of education] but allows hundreds of students to participate in the production of these historic forums,” Brown said.

Nashville’s growth has recently garnered attention from other organizations like Politicon. In 2016, more than 100 million people viewed the final presidential debate, and 15 percent of voters said they “definitely decided to vote for their candidate during or just after the debates.” However, Vanderbilt has never hosted a Presidential debate in the 69-year history of televised Presidential debates.

In an email to the Hustler, a Vanderbilt representative said that the university fosters values of civil discourse and community engagement and welcomes opportunities for open, non-partisan exchange of ideas.

“Providing our campus community, and the public, opportunities to become more informed, politically-engaged citizens benefits us all, which is why we have hosted many political officials over the years – most recently through our Chancellor’s Lecture Series that hosted George W. Bush, Former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, Sen. Jeff Flake, Vice President Joe Biden and others,” Vanderbilt said.

One obstacle to Vanderbilt’s ability to host such events could include seating capacity. Langford Auditorium, Vanderbilt’s largest performance hall, holds 1,104 people at maximum capacity while Belmont’s Curb Event Center holds 5,500 people.

In an email to the Hustler, Belmont President Bob Fisher said in 2004 Belmont and Vanderbilt both applied and were rejected. Fisher believes Belmont’s bid was likely rejected because the Curb Event Center opened only two months before the debate.

“We re-applied for the 2008 Debate and were selected, I think because our team made such a great case for the Belmont site and for Nashville,” Fisher said.

Fisher said that 2008 Debate had an enormous impact on the campus and created many volunteering opportunities for students as well as world wide recognition. In particular, Fisher said that Belmont received national attention in the form of a mention on Saturday Night Live as a result of hosting the presidential debate.

With the importance of audience capacity for events like the Presidential Debate, Vanderbilt has had discussions about potential expansions with a larger performance hall; however, there hasn’t been any serious conversations involving funding such changes to campus, according to Assistant Vice Chancellor of Plant Operations Mark Petty. 

“We’ve been able to pretty well handle all our larger events such as concerts using Memorial Gym, which isn’t ideal but does function in that sense, or Langford Auditorium for our smaller and medium size events,” Petty said.

A previous version of this article listed Notre Dame as a city that was under consideration by CPD. The article has been corrected to list South Bend as one of the cities previously under consideration for the presidential debate.

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