Centre College 'abuzz' one month from VP debate

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by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on September 4, 2012 at 6:23 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 4 at 6:41 PM

DANVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Danville, Ky. and its 16,218 residents are 82 miles from Louisville and 578 miles from The White House.

But Centre College in Danville and its 1300 students will soon be at the center of the political world when the Vice-Presidential debate returns to the historic campus. 

"I'm so excited," said Laura Hellman, a sophomore from Louisville. "It's crazy because I've never really been that into politics, but campus is already abuzz."

On October 11, Centre's Norton Center for the Arts will host this year's only Vice-Presidential debate between incumbent Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan.

"We try to bring as many concerts, comedians, we have a lot of things going on in our new student center," said Lisa Alley, Student Activities Council President.

But little compares to a nationally televised debate that will consume much of campus.

One gymnasium is being converted into a giant newsroom with 750 work stations -- 14 miles each of data and electric lines. 

Another gym will become "spin alley" where representatives of the campaigns will declare victory for their respective candidates.

An athletic field will be transformed into a satellite truck farm.

"There are pages and pages, dozens of details that have to be attended to," said Clarence Wyatt, Debate Steering Committee Co-Chair.

"Every student on campus recognizes that this is a once in a lifetime event and something that will be a highlight of our college career," said Patrick Cho, President of the Student Government Association.

Once in their lifetime as students - but the second in Centre's lifetime. 

The 2000 debate between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman made Centre the smallest institution to ever host a televised general election debate.

In 2012, the Vice-Presidential contest is defining the Presidential race.

"Gov. Romney with the pick of Paul Ryan has indicated that he wants to draw a fundamentally sharp distinction with President Obama in terms of the vision that they want to take the country," said Benjamin Knoll, Asst. Prof of Government at Centre College.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP V-P nominee, will likely be questioned on his budget priorities and entitlement reform.

"Hot seat is one way to put it," said Luke Wetton,  Centre College Republicans President.  "I see it more as an opportunity."

Meanwhile the unscripted debate has Centre expecting the unexpected from Biden.

"He does have a tendency to stick his foot in his mouth," Wetton said.

"I do expect there will be funny moments in this debate," said Maddie Hooper, Centre Democrats Vice-President.  "I'm sure he will say something outspoken, but I think sometimes his gaffes work in our favor.  I think he comes across as an honest person."

Cho credits a culture of service at Centre for an outpouring of debate volunteers.

"The vast majority of student jobs are not glamourous," Cho said.  "They're setting up fences and checking ID's, logistics."

Centre says the 2000 debate increased enrollment, exposure and contributions.

"We may be a small college in a small town in the middle of Kentucky, but we can stage an international event and do it better than anyone's done it before," Wyatt said.

"To have something of this magnitude in your backyard really brings civic engagement to a new level," Wetton added.

Centre plans a free debate festival in the center of campus the day of and during the debate on October 11.

Click to find out more about the 2012 Centre College debate.

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