In what could be the closest presidential race in 20 years, the three scheduled debates between Vice President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush have become critical opportunities to court undecided voters. But while Bush and Gore have spent untold weeks in preparation, not to mention millions of dollars in preemptive advertisements, it is unclear whether their efforts will be enough to pierce the thick walls of the Williams purple bubble.
Last week, though, as Bush and Gore debated for the first time in front of an estimated 46 million viewers, a number of students did their best to make sure that at least somebody in the Purple Valley would tune in.
At 9 p.m. last Tuesday, a little over 100 students packed into Goodrich to watch the debate on the coffee house’s large projector screen. Students sat on radiators, windowsills and even stood in doorways as most of the seats were taken before the debate even began. Though people trickled in and out as the night wore on, Goodrich remained almost full throughout the debate.
Chabeth Haynes ’02, Goodrich’s scheduling manager, originally proposed the idea to the Goodrich Committee as a way to attract more students to what is sometimes seen as an underutilized space. “We saw the presidential debate as an opportunity for us to do some exceedingly low-cost programming, and so we thought that it would be a profitable way to entice people to the building. And it was.”
At the same time, Haynes said that she was interested in increasing student awareness about the two candidates. “I have served on a lot of committees and I am well aware that many people make very uninformed decisions about a variety of things…and I don’t think that who one votes for in the presidential elections should be an uninformed decision. So I thought that showing the debate would be a way to not only bring people to the building, but that through advertising, it would serve as a reminder to the campus that it was going to take place so that even if someone didn’t want to come to Goodrich to see it, at least they would still know that it was happening.”
The event appeared to succeed on both counts. On the business side, Julian Fang ’01, Goodrich’s coffee bar personnel manager, estimated that sales jumped about 50 to 60 percent.
While the large crowd would seem to indicate that Goodrich increased student interest in the debate, Goodrich still afforded some benefits to those who were already planning on watching. Misha Dworsky ’04 observed that though he could watch the debate in Fayerweather Hall, his entry, “they have a bigger TV here.” Michael Ebell ’03, on the other hand, came to Goodrich because, as he said, “I like the idea of watching the debate with other people.”
At one point near the end of the debate, several chants of “Let Ralph debate!” referring to Ralph Nader’s exclusion by the Commission on Presidential Debates, drowned out both Gore and Bush. Mike Levien ’01 and a number of other students lead the chants and passed out Green Party literature after the debate. Levien and his group plan on protesting the next two debates in a similar manner as well as distributing more literature in Baxter.