"Media will swarm campus" is the headline this week in the student newspaper at Washington University in St. Louis where Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin are scheduled to kick off their much-anticipated vice presidential debate at 8 p.m. (CDT) Oct. 2, in the University's Athletic Complex.
"Politics are coming to real life on our campus," said Bill Restemayer, a freshman from North Dakota involved in student government. "There's excitement in the air, and it's all students are talking about -- arguing back and forth from both sides. This debate will let me see firsthand if public service is my life's calling."
Restemayer is not alone in his enthusiasm for the debate, which many in the news media are describing as clearly one of most important vice presidential debates in history, and perhaps one of the most watched debates ever.
The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), the non-partisan national group that sponsors the debates, announced at a media conference Monday that it has received more than 3,000 requests for media credentials, more than twice as many as it received from media for its 2004 presidential debate at Washington University.
"We are ready," Rob Wild, chair of the University's vice presidential debate steering committee, said Tuesday as he hurried around the Athletic Complex, greeting national media and coordinating final details of the preparations.
"Hundreds of people have put in countless hours preparing for what we know will be a tremendous event in this year's presidential campaign season," he added. "This is the only vice presidential debate and the eyes of the world will be on Washington University in St. Louis."
The university's official debate Web site, debate.wustl.edu, has become a clearinghouse for logistical information critical to media piling into St. Louis from all ends of the globe, while providing the campus community and the general public with news coverage, slide shows and video highlights of debate-related activities.
WUSTL student media, including the Student Life newspaper and WUTV campus cable television station, also are planning special web coverage and news broadcasts from around campus.
CNN, the designated pool feed for live video coverage from within the debate hall, was among the first networks to position a huge satellite transmission truck outside the Athletic Complex, arriving at campus last weekend to begin wiring and other preparations.
Dozens of global broadcast media will be vying for stand-up positions for live broadcasts from outside stages erected near the entrance to the Athletic Complex, while other networks have opted to set up mobile broadcast studios at various locations around campus. Several national networks are planning to go live from campus for much of debate day, Oct. 2, and also early the following morning.
CBS' "The Early Show" with Harry Smith and Maggie Rodriguez plans to broadcast starting at 5:30 a.m. Oct. 2 from Holmes Lounge in Ridgley Hall and then will move outside of Holmes Lounge from 7-8 a.m. On Oct. 3, "The Early Show" is planning to broadcast again live from Holmes Lounge at 5:30 a.m. and then move outside from 7-8 a.m.
MSNBC plans to broadcast live from outside Graham Chapel throughout the day Oct. 2, starting with NBC News' Political Director Chuck Todd at 11 a.m. and Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell at noon. "Hardball with Chris Matthews" will broadcast live from the MSNBC stage outside Graham Chapel from 4-5 p.m., 6-7 p.m. and 11 p.m.-midnight.
Also on Oct. 2, the CNN Election Express Yourself Tour Bus will be parked on campus at the northeast courtyard of the Danforth University Center, and C-SPAN's Campaign 2008 Bus will be located outside the Mallinckrodt Student Center.
The event the University community has spent the past year preparing for has finally arrived — along with the news trucks, reporters, security officials, debate personnel and, most importantly, the candidates.
Since last November when Washington University's selection as vice presidential debate site was announced, students have been working closely with campus faculty, staff and administrators to plan an array of debate-related student activities.
Students have held campus-wide voter registration drives, mock debates, rallies and a multitude of panel discussions on election issues. The campus bakery is selling cookies in the shape of donkeys or elephants as proxies for the political campaigns of Obama and McCain and posting a running tally on who is currently the campus frontrunner.
"I think the vice presidential candidates might truly make or break the presidential election this year," says senior Brittany Perez, president of Student Union, an undergraduate student government organization. "We want to involve as many students as possible in this process."
"It's going to bring a lot of visibility to the University," notes Perez, who's already been featured in a number of news stories on the debate. "It's exciting for students to be a part of it. We have more than 300 student volunteers who will be participating directly in debate preparation, which is invaluable experience."
Washington University is the only institution to have hosted more than two CPD debates. The University hosted the first three-candidate presidential debate in CPD history in 1992, was selected to host a presidential debate in 1996 that eventually was canceled, hosted the third and last presidential debate of the 2000 campaign season and the second of three presidential debates before the 2004 election.
In her introduction of the 2004 debate, CPD executive director Janet Brown praised the University as being the "gold standard" for debate sites.
Washington University has a rich tradition, dating back to the 1992 presidential debate, of making sure that any debate tickets allotted to the university by the CPD are strictly reserved for use by its students. The tradition began when then-Chancellor William H. Danforth decreed that he would prefer to give his ticket to a student rather than attend himself. Since then, hundreds of WUSTL students have been able to witness history first hand through the debate ticket lottery.
This year, nearly 8,000 students -- 7,942 to be exact - registered through a university database system for a chance to claim a ticket to the debate. The University won't know until just before the debate whether the CPD is able to allocate any tickets for the University, but any ticket received will be awarded to students in the order they were drawn in the lottery.
Students drawn in the top 300 slots will be invited to wait for news of tickets, and those lucky enough to receive one will be whisked off to the debate hall via waiting campus shuttle buses.
Editor's Note: WUSTL Office of Public Affairs is providing an array of online services for media covering the debate, both from on-campus and off-site. For the latest updates, downloadable high-resolution images, broadcast-quality B-roll video and media assistance in scheduling interviews, visit the media information section of the debate web site: http://debate.wustl.edu/media.php.