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The Daily Tar Heel

Small School Hosts Big Debate

With a student population that barely tops 800, Centre is the smallest college ever to host a vice presidential debate.

But school officials said size will not be a problem for Centre. "We have been preparing hard and well for over a year, and up to this point we haven't had any problems," said Mike Norris, Centre College communications director.

Centre alumni and other donors have raised more than $1 million to finance the debate -- $550,000 of which the school paid to the Commission on Presidential Debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan organization that sponsors and produces presidential and vice presidential debates, selected the debate sites.

Eleven other institutions competed with Centre for the right to host the three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate. Wake Forest University will host the second presidential debate of the season Oct. 11.

The rest of the money Centre raised largely funded infrastructure improvements, including $300,000 worth of fiberoptic phone cable.

Norris said community support for the debates is enormous.

To show their support for the debate, local elementary and high school students have written essays, signed petitions and drawn cartoons for the debate commission.

"They even recorded an original song called 'We wish you would come to Danville,'" Norris said.

Thirty percent of the Centre College student body have volunteered to help prepare the campus for the onslaught of journalists expected to descend on campus. Centre officials also developed an educational Web site dedicated to the history of the office of U.S. vice president at

Norris said Centre wanted to host this debate to increase the school's visibility and harness the debate's potential for educating students about how the U.S. election and nomination processes work.

CPD Media Director John Scardino said factors used to determine where the debates would occur included enthusiasm and community support, as well as technical requirements such as adequate facilities and equipment.

Scardino added that Centre had a tremendous "can-do" attitude. He said a detailed outline of how the school planned to raise money for the debates was also required.

Jed Doty, Centre student body president, said he thought the vice presidential debate will be a wonderful opportunity for Centre. It will give America a chance to see what Danville and Centre offer, Doty said. "It's great to have a debate in small-town America," he said. "Everyone will see that we are with it and intellectually there."

In addition to this vice presidential debate and the debate at WFU, two other presidential debates are scheduled for this month. The first was held yesterday at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. The final one will be held at Washington University in St. Louis on Oct. 17.

The State & National Editor can be reached at

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