If you were looking for some place to watch the first presidential debate tonight, East Tennessee State University has it covered.
ETSU is participating with some other universities across the state hosting debate watch events to provide video conferencing discussions before and after the debate, said Leah Adinolfi, ETSU director of student services.
The debate watch will be held in the “Cave” in the D.P. Culp University Center.
Adinolfi said students from participating universities will be polled to see what they think about issues facing the nation and what thought about the debate.
President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney will face off in the first of three debates tonight at the University of Denver. The debate will begin at 9 p.m. Eastern Time and last until 10:30. Two more presidential debates will be held and Vice President Joe Biden will debate Congressman Paul Ryan next week in the vice presidential debate.
ETSU’s debate watch event will begin at 8 p.m. Wednesday with the presidents of the College Republicans and College Democrats giving introductions and discussing what their respective candidates need to demonstrate in the debate.
At 9 p.m. the video conference will be shut off and those in attendance will watch the debate. Video conferencing will resume at the conclusion of the debate.
The expected audience is students but anyone is welcome to come, Adinolfi said.
She said it was important for ETSU to host such events because it helps the electorate stay informed.
“Obviously, public policy affects all of us and federal policy affects us, so this election, like any election local or otherwise, is very important to our daily lives and so I hope that students are paying attention,” she said. “And if there is any place where that should be happening, it should be on a university campus, so I hope we’re making some things available so that they’ll be informed when they go to the polls in November.”
Adinolfi said ETSU will likely have opportunities for people to watch the other debates but video conferencing will not be a part of them.
Alexa Cassell, a senior majoring in political science and minoring in legal studies, is president of the College Republicans at ETSU. She is applying to go to law school next fall.
Cassell said the recent “Freedom Rocks” event at ETSU indicated the major issues concerning college students are student debt and finding employment after graduation.
“I don’t think either one of them (Obama or Romney), honestly, is addressing that issue of higher education, the cost, and how we (students) can pay it off,” she said.
She said Romney would do a better job of dealing with student debt and that the economy is probably the bigger issue in a national context.
She said Wednesday night’s debate is not the deciding factor for most Americans but Romney must do well.
“I think that he has to hit Obama hard on the economy without coming across as negative or, he can’t come across as trying to kind of hurt him,” Cassell said. “He needs to point out specific flaws in the Obama administration and point to things he would have done differently to really prove to Americans that he’s the man for the job, he could have done a better job in the (past) four years and that he will do a better job in the next four years.”
Fred Poag is a graduate student in the history department at ETSU. He is focusing on American foreign policy in China during the early part of the 20th century. He responded to questions via email.
As for the issues concerning college students, Poag also said paying off debt and finding a job are the most pressing issues.
“For students, myself included, employment after college is a big issue,” Poag wrote. “Most students have sizable student loan debt, and finding stable employment is crucial. Student loan interest, student loan repayment, having employment after graduation, and being able to transition into the workforce are shared concerns.”
Poag wrote that he has noticed that social issues are also important to students across the political spectrum.
“Young students are much more tolerant in regards to others’ ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation,” he wrote. “They are more open about their differences, and more accepting of others. I think the days of using social issues as wedge issues are coming to end, and economic policy will be where political battles are won and lost.”
Poag said Romney will try to hit Obama on the economy and job creation during the past four years. He said Obama needs to point to specific accomplishments and illustrate how things have changed in the past four years.
While she won’t be watching tonight’s debate, Crystal Nulton said she plans on watching the rest as they air throughout the remainder of campaign season.
Nulton said she will be supporting Romney in this year’s election because “he better meets my needs than Obama.”
Although Nulton’s mind is already made up, she thinks the presidential debates are still an important part of the process, as there is always potential to sway voters.
“I think I learn a lot from each candidate; their perspectives, kind of where they’re each coming from. It just gives me a better idea of what kind of president they may actually be,” she said.
A Romney supporter who asked to remain anonymous said she will be watching each debate as it airs because “there needs to be a change” within the current political climate.
“He (Romney) has better views. We’ve been sitting in the same place for four years. It’s time to move on,” she said.
Like Nulton, the woman said debates are useful because of the information that is often presented by both candidates.
“You get to find out what their views are and where they’re headed. Sometimes you think you know what the other represents before you watch the debates and that means a lot,” she said.
Staff Writer Madison Mathews contributed to this report.