WINSTON-SALEM - Secret Service agents, members of the media and yards of electronic wire are scattered across the Wake Forest University campus as the school prepares to host the year's second presidential debate today.
Workers on campus Tuesday were hustling to position television monitors and cameras on the stage in Wake Forest's Wait Chapel, where Republican nominee George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore will publicly face off for the second time this election season.
Red carpeting already covered the stairs and stage in the chapel Tuesday afternoon. A round table, the same used in Thursday's debate between the vice presidential candidates, was also in place. PBS anchor Jim Lehrer will moderate the debate, which will begin at 9 p.m. Lehrer also moderated the candidates' first debate last week in Boston.
Wake Forest students seemed to have grown accustomed to the swarms of police officers and journalists that began arriving on campus last week for the debate, which is organized by the nonpartisan Presidential Debate Commission. "It's been pretty neat to see the cameras and to have the focus here," said Sayer Nixon, a freshman who volunteered as a door guard at Wait Chapel.
But an event of this magnitude is not without problems.
"Mail service (on campus) has been closed for a week, and packages aren't allowed," said Wake Forest senior Roger Tise of Winston-Salem. "There is a little bit of inconvenience, but it's worth it."
Senior Michael Mitchell of Rocky Mount said students are looking forward to the debate. "Most students are psyched, but some are upset and annoyed," he said. "There is no parking on campus - the media has taken up all of our parking."
Nixon said some students are upset because they might not be able to attend the debate. He said students selected by a lottery would get remaining tickets only minutes before the debate.
But university officials are encouraging students to watch the event. Mitchell said the debate will be broadcasted on a large television at Magnolia Quad near the chapel.
Classes have not been interrupted by the debate preparations, but Mitchell said administrators wanted to incorporate the event into classes to teach students about the election process.
This is not the first time Wake Forest students have welcomed a presidential debate. A debate between Republican George Bush and Democrat Michael Dukakis was held at Wake Forest in 1988. Despite the family history with the campus, George W. Bush announced this summer that he would not be debating, but Wake Forest students rallied together, trying to convince him to participate in the debate.
"A ton of students wrote postcards asking him to come," Mitchell said. "In `88, his father was here, and they used that nostalgia to persuade Bush."
Students said they are glad Bush agreed to the debates but that the strict security precautions, including the removal of trash cans and mailboxes in areas near the chapel, generated wild rumors around campus.
"We've heard things from snipers on every roof to our telephones being tapped," Mitchell joked. "But this debate is a great thing for our university."
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