The University is in the planning stages of hosting an on-campus forum in early June for Democratic presidential candidates, administrators said Wednesday afternoon.
U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton of New York, John Edwards of North Carolina and Barack Obama of Illinois are on the list of invited candidates, said University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. He added that school officials didn’t proactively seek out the candidates or the event.
Details are scant because GW and the forum’s sponsor first began collaborating late last week, said Jim Hess, executive director of University Events. He said GW community members will be invited and that students will be the “most important” group in attendance.
“We are working to bring a candidate forum to campus,” Hess said. “We’re really excited about it, and we expect to be able to make a more detailed formal announcement along with the formal sponsors of the event early next week.”
Hess declined to say which organization is sponsoring the event and which national news outlet will cover it. He added that the event location is not yet known.
Trachtenberg said he is pleased the forum will be on campus, but isn’t overly enthused, explaining that the University has hosted many prominent politicians through the years and that the school is a natural fit for this type of event.
“If I said New York sports arena, you think of Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium … So if you’re thinking debate in Washington, GW is likely to come forward in consideration,” the outgoing University president said.
St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., is slated to host two presidential debates the same week a forum may take place at GW. The Union Leader newspaper, WMUR television station and CNN are co-sponsoring the Democratic and Republican debates, according to news reports.
As of press time, officials with the three media co-sponsors of the New Hampshire debates did not return phone messages left by The Hatchet.
National party leaders have been trying to limit the number of presidential primary debates, given the dozens of requests each candidate has received, according to a New York Times article.
“After a private dinner of Democratic campaign managers at a Washington steakhouse last month with Howard Dean, the Democratic National Committee chairman, the party agreed that starting in July it would limit debates to one a month through the end of the year,” The Times reported Sunday. “Mr. Dean, blocking for his candidates, will choose the sponsors.”
GW College Democrats President Sean Smith said he would like the forum to materialize in Foggy Bottom, but said the candidates have demanding schedules.
“We hope they’ll come … I can’t speak for the camps themselves; they haven’t formally signed on yet,” Smith, a senior, said. “The camps have a busy schedule, but I’m optimistic they’ll come to GW.”
The first presidential primary debate is scheduled for Thursday night at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C. All eight declared Democratic candidates will attend the 90-minute event, which will be broadcast live on MSNBC. Ten Republican candidates will debate next Thursday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
A spokesperson for the GW College Democrats said members were excited about the opportunity on campus, even though the forum will take place after the conclusion of the spring semester.
“I think the enthusiasm about it will definitely be there, but turnout would be slightly less than would happen if it were during the school year,” said Michael Weil, communications director for the College Democrats. “But even during the summer it’s great name recognition for the school and will help increase our stature.”
Weil, a junior, said he was not surprised by the news of the forum, citing GW’s location and facilities as being ideal for such a nationally prominent event. “There’s not a better place for our party to come,” he said.
Republican activists – though pleased with a potential boost to the University’s reputation – said they would like to see the GOP pay a visit to Foggy Bottom as well.
“I would hope that the Republicans as well as the Democrats would be able to come to our campus to have these kinds of debates,” said Peter Glessing, public relations director for the GW College Republicans. “It’s an honor to have the Democrats … but we would love nothing more than to see the Republicans who are running for president come to this campus as well.”
Glessing, a junior, added that since his organization has already hosted presidential candidate Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and potential candidate Newt Gingrich, it’s only fair that Democratic students should be able to meet their party’s elite as well.