Presidential Debate Months in the Making

By: Lindsey Brown Email
By: Lindsey Brown Email

The Oxford square is as peaceful as always, but in four months, the quaint Mississippi town will be packed with thousands of journalists to cover the presidential debate.

"Mississippi is going to play a huge role, not just for Ole Miss, but for the state," said Dr. Ralph Braseth, UM media coordinator.

But in the same breath, Braseth says getting the campus ready for an event of this scale has been a logistics nightmare. The executive producer for the debate elaborates.

"I like to think of this as the Super Bowl for politics, except it's not in a football stadium. It's on a campus which can create some challenges for the school and for us," said debate producer Marty Slutsky.

One of the biggest challenges has been making upgrades to accommodate the needs of an estimated 3,000 journalists. This task is so extensive that it will cost $4 million to $5 million, all being raised through private donors.

"One aspect of this debate site that is different than other sites is that we are in a rural area and it's a matter of how we make our connection to the rest of the world," said Kathy Gates of UM's information technology department.

Despite the challenges, the staff is moving forward, with the students just as prepared.

"The students are excited. It has been amazing. We have turned a lot of it over to them and they have already had some events," said Dr. Andy Mullins,
assistant to chancellor Robert Khayat.

There are a couple of student committees I want to join," said senior Brantley Sanderson of Waynesboro. "And hopefully we can do some great things. Who wouldn't want to be a part of this?"

Senators John McCain and Barack Obama will be answering the questions Sept. 26. The debate is considered to be of historic importance.

"Using the University of Mississippi for a backdrop for that conversation, I'm sorry, race is going to be front and center for this debate in particular," said Braseth.

School officials say the relevance of this debate goes beyond the politics; they say it's also a chance for this state and the campus to show how far they have come in terms of racial relations.

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