On the eve of Super Tuesday’s primary elections, students put themselves in the presidential candidates’ shoes and had a heated debate of the prominent issues voters would be considering the next day as they went to the polls.
Monday night’s one-hour debate was hosted by GW Housing Programs and held in the Strong Hall Piano Lounge. The debate’s moderator, Frank Sesno, a professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs and a former CNN Washington bureau chief, commented on the significance of this year’s campaign season.
“This is the most suspenseful, most dramatic campaign we’ve seen in a while,” he said. “So many issues are unresolved.”
Sesno noted that college students are more engaged in this campaign than in previous years.
“Young people are weighing in, and in a big way,” he said.
Students represented five prominent candidates in the election. On the Democratic side, students argued in favor of Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, and on the Republican side students argued in favor of John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul. Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s voice was noticeably absent from the debate and he was represented, somewhat comically, by a two-foot scarecrow.
The students said their preparation for the debate came naturally given their avid interest and participation in the election.
“I’ve spent 14 months working on the Obama campaign,” said junior Adam Beck, who represented the senator in the debate. “I was already prepared.”
Huckabee representative Zac Morgan also was prepared. He worked on the Arkansas governor’s campaign over the summer. Morgan, a senior and chairman of Students for Mike Huckabee, also said his roommate had quizzed him the night before the debate.
Universal healthcare, the first issue of the night, prompted a heated clash between Beck on the Obama side and Clinton’s representative, Students for Hilary Chairman’s Cory Struble.
Struble decried Obama’s refusal to require all Americans to have healthcare, saying that it was a “matter of morality” that all citizens were covered.
“Hilary had the chance 15 years ago to accomplish universal healthcare, and she didn’t do it,” Beck said in response. “We don’t need ‘Hilarycare,’ we need a different approach.”
All five students said that while religion played an important part in their candidates’ lives, it would not affect any of their decisions as president. In a pointed remark directed at Huckabee, Struble said Clinton would not “amend the Constitution to fit the Ten Commandments.” He then accused Huckabee of wanting to “segregate” gays from the population during the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s. Morgan responded that he was “appalled” Struble would consider such a claim fact.
“That’s bigoted and you are completely misinformed,” he said.
The idea of the “true conservative” was a consistent topic throughout the debate. Diaz defended McCain, who is often attacked by Republicans for being too liberal, by saying that “degrees of conservatism” are irrelevant.
“People want someone who can reach across the aisle,” he said. “They want someone who can accomplish things.”
Senior Ryan Giannetti, who organized the event, said the debate was geared toward letting students express their own views on the candidates’ platforms.
“We wanted an idea of what the students were thinking,” he said. “With so many viable candidates, this will allow us to see what the nation is going to look like.”