At the Democratic presidential debate, attention was squarely focused on the 12 candidates. As they arrived on stage, where they responded to questions concerning issues such as healthcare, gun control and the impeachment of the incumbent president, people all across the country and around the globe tuned in to watch. During the debate, candidates expressed their views and ideals with the ultimate goal of increased popularity and a chance to occupy the Oval Office.
However, the 12 candidates on stage are only a small part of the entire debate operation. The transformation of Otterbein University’s gymnasium into a hall appropriate for a presidential debate took over 15,000 hours of labor. CNN and The New York Times, who jointly hosted the debate, ordered over 500 feet of cable and truss, 400 stage decks and over 40 semi trucks to deliver the equipment.
Additionally, over 100 people in the Westerville area were hired for setup. 1,500 people attended the debate—ranging from members of the Democratic National Committee and friends and family of Ohio Democratic representatives to Otterbein University students and faculty. These are a few stories of the people who watched this event from behind the scenes.
Carolina Lech is a first-year student at Otterbein, and was one of the first people in line to enter the gymnasium where the debate was held. Lech, who lives less than 10 minutes from the arena, arrived over four and a half hours early in hopes of finding a seat close to the stage. Lech’s main interest was each candidate’s stance on environmental policy and was excited that the debate occurred on Otterbein’s campus.
“I think it’s really cool,” Lech said. “I wouldn’t ever have [attended] something like [the debate] if it hadn’t been on my campus. That’s not something I tend to think about as much. So the fact that [the debate] was able to be here … is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. It’s really amazing.”
Ken Klippenstein is an investigative reporter for The Young Turks, a progressive news media outlet. Klippenstein has amassed over 150,000 followers on Twitter for his work using Freedom of Information Act documents to break stories. Klippenstein, who was sent by The Young Turks to cover the debate, had a more cynical view of the event.
“I’m here at the Ohio debate because my boss made me come here,” Klippenstein said. “I’m actually an investigative reporter that prefers to do [investigative work], but the way the media is set up, we’re all sort of forced to go to these sort of circus events, and there’s a very strong circus vibe that I’m getting here now.”
Waverly Hart is the Editor-in-Chief of The Wooster Voice, the College of Wooster’s student-run news publication. The debate is Hart’s first experience covering a major political event.
“It’s wild. I think it’s crazy that we have this amazing opportunity to be [at the debate] as student journalists, and I think it’s really promising for our careers and our futures,” Hart said. “And it’s just making me really optimistic. And hopefully in the future, I’ll feel more comfortable covering big events like this.”
Hart’s main focus—and what she planned on asking the candidates about in the spin room after the debate—was American foreign policy, especially how the candidates would have handled pulling troops out of Syria.
“I think our national defense is very important, and I think people get kind of caught up in our issues in America,” said Hart. “And that’s very important, but I think sometimes, at least on my campus, students let our relationships with other countries go by the wayside.”
Hart also believes that the presidential debate taking place in Ohio, especially at a university such as Otterbein, is necessary to engage Americans in national issues and encourage voting.
I think it’s really important that the debate is being held in Ohio as a battleground state,” said Hart. “Many of the Otterbein students that have access to this debate are part of a major voting bloc, and it’s important that we mobilize them.”