VP Debate: Farmville gets taste of national spotlight

The eyes of the world descended at Longwood University for the first and only Vice Presidential debate of the 2016 election. Photo by Jim Thomma.

Newcomers to Farmville, Virginia joined locals, Longwood students, faculty and staff around a Jumbotron on Stubbs Mall to watch a live broadcast of the Vice Presidential debate on Oct. 4.

The debate pitted Hillary Clinton running-mate Tim Kaine, against Donald Trump pick and Indiana governor Mike Pence, who earned six-point lead over Kaine in a post-op CNN-ORC poll released later that night.

Kaine and Pence sparred over national security, immigration, and criminal justice and policing reform as they were cast split-screen against a backdrop displaying the Declaration of Independence.

Denissa De Leos, a Longwood student volunteer said she hoped the debate would put the university’s name out there. De Leos also said, many Longwood student volunteers intentionally stayed on campus throughout their fall break out of school pride.

“Your school’s a part of this huge thing,” said De Leos. “ Obviously you want to be a part of it as well. I don’t just want to sit back and watch the show, I want to be a part of the show.”

Josh Wilcoxson, political director of the Libertarian Party of Virginia, said they were present to advocate for the inclusion of Libertarian vice-presidential candidate Bill Weld in the debate, and running-mate Gary Johnson in the two upcoming presidential debates.

Parked next to the bleachers on the Longwood campus mall was a group waving signs reading “JOHNSON-WELD 2016,” and “OPEN THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES.”

“We think some other parties and some other voices should be there,” Wilcoxson said. “We’ve heard (Clinton and Trump) sling insults at each other for a year now. We know they’ve been best friends before that. So for a decision this big, it shouldn’t just be entertainment. It should be real issues.”

To participate in the televised debates organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates , candidates must gain a 15 percent popularity from an average of five national polls.

Wilcoxson questioned the validity of the 15 percent threshold, as well as the sampling criteria.

While many watched the debate from inside the university, many who couldn’t secure tickets were forced to watch on a jumbotron outside. Photo by Chris Richardson.

“If you have two people who’ve been in the news,” said Wilcoxson, “and made billions of dollars in earned advertisement, 15 percent is not a whole lot left.”

The next presidential debate will be the first of its kind to accept debate questions submitted and chosen by average voters via the Internet, according to the Open Debate Coalition (ODC), which lobbied for use of the new method.

The Commission on Presidential Debates isn’t obligated to choose the most popular questions; the 30 questions on the ODC’s website with the highest number of votes will merely be “considered.”

The 25th-most popular question on the day of the vice presidential debate was “Do you support allowing Gary Johnson to participate in the final debate?”

Johnson supporter, Ashleigh Stein held up a big sign displaying Johnson’s head. Stein said she wanted viewers to see Johnson’s eyes behind the panelists on the channel’s live broadcast.

Stein was also holding a petition signed by more than 200 students to get Longwood University President W. Taylor Reveley IV to either ask the CPD to include Weld and Green Party vice-presidential candidate Ajamu Baraka, or hold an independent debate with all four candidates.

“The president hid,” Stein said. “He did not answer. He did not respond.”

Johnson supporters weren’t the only ones demonstrating on campus before the debate, though. Supporters touting anti-Trump signs appeared in waves from the Clinton camp on Griffin Blvd.

“We’ve heard (Clinton and Trump) sling insults at each other for a year now. We know they’ve been best friends before that. So for a decision this big, it shouldn’t just be entertainment. It should be real issues.”

Josh Wilcoxson
Political Director, Libertarian Party of Virginia

Lauren Mitchell, a high school senior who volunteers for the Democratic Party in Chester, Va., said her party organizer sent her down to Farmville to help show support for Kaine. Her secondary goal was to “overpower Trump supporters — just swarm them with Hillary Clinton,” Mitchell said.

As the sun began to set, the Clinton camp took a bus to the intersection of Main St. and Griffin Blvd. roughly a mile off-campus to cheer as Kaine’s motorcade made an entrance.

On the other side of the street, Trump supporter Derek Brown was packing up a table of plush dolls in the likeness of Hillary Clinton. At $24.95 apiece, the dolls are programmed to emit various Clinton statements of “questionable truthfulness” whenever squeezed.

“We call them ‘18 different tall tales,’” Brown said, laughing. “We want to be politically correct.”

Brown said he and his family designed the “Lyin’ Hilary Doll” with help from a Chinese firm. An advert posted to YouTube has secured nearly 200,000 views. Brown said he’s sold roughly 6,000 dolls, mostly through online sales.

This was only Brown’s second time doing in-person sales. He said he drove up from Charlotte, N.C., mainly just to get a better sense of the political atmosphere.

“I feel like it’s my due dilligence to go on the frontline, and at least check it out and see what it’s like.”

Jim Thomma, Contributing Writer

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