On Dec. 19, 2019, LMU played a national role in the U.S. presidential election process when it hosted the sixth Democratic Party presidential candidates’ debate of the 2020 election. The event was both the most complex and visible held on campus since the 1984 Olympics.
Political leaders whose names have become household words, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, billionaire Tom Steyer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, took their place on a stage in a specially revamped Gersten Pavilion.
LMU was named host for the debate by the Democratic National Committee on Nov. 8. “We welcome the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to campus, continuing LMU’s long-standing tradition of rigorous inquiry, debate, and civic engagement,” said President Timothy Law Snyder, Ph.D. “As a nationally renowned, highly ranked research institution in the Jesuit and Marymount traditions, LMU is a destination for world leaders whose ideas confront humankind’s most challenging issues. Together, we seek to create the world we want to live in.”
To coincide with the candidates’ debate, LMU organized on-campus watch parties for trustees, regents and supporters as well as for faculty, staff, students and members of the local community. LMU also collaborated with PBS’ Student Learning Lab to provide high school students and undergraduate journalism majors with the opportunity to work in the midst of the event with some of the same access as professional journalists and to conduct a panel of first-time voters for streaming on Facebook.
“LMU is, and should be, at the forefront in the national discussion about the future direction of the nation,” said Michael Genovese, president of the LMU Global Policy Institute and professor in the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts who specializes in the U.S. presidency. “As one of the finest liberal arts institutions in the West, we have a responsibility to help lead the national debate on key issues and provide citizens with the tools to make clear and rational evidence-based decisions.”
The DNC decision to base the debate at LMU gave the campus community six weeks to organize and execute an event that in the past other universities have had more than a year to plan. Gersten Pavilion was the primary focus of attention, with its needs for augmented lighting, communications and staging along with increased security measures. But the staging of the event became an all-hands-on-deck effort, involving almost every sector of the university. The debate was hosted and livestreamed by PBS NewsHour and Politico. It also was broadcast by CNN on multiple channels. The moderators were Tim Alberta, of Politico, and Yamiche Alcindor, Amna Nawaz and Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour.
This article appeared in the winter 2020 issue (Vol. 9, No. 2) of LMU Magazine.