Value of debate ranges from all-important to unimportant

By Gus Bode

If you don’t have cable, good luck watching anything else.

The third presidential debate, tonight at Arizona State University, will draw the attention of the nation as a live audience of dozens and a television audience of millions tunes in. Just like the first two, the debate is scheduled to be on all major networks.

Students at Arizona State were relishing the attention a day before the debate.


“Our main thing is rallying, showing support and being loud,” said Paul Erhart, an ASU senior and officer for College Republicans. “That’s what we do best.”

He said his organization has more than 1,000 members who are ready to make some noise for the cameras.

The editor-in-chief of the student newspaper said that excitement saturates the atmosphere on campus. Cameron Eickmeyer, who heads The State Press, said the student support for Bush and Kerry was about equal-a far cry from the overwhelming Washington University’s on-campus support for Kerry Friday.

“It’s almost shocking compared to what we’ve seen in previous years,” said Eickmeyer, an ASU senior in journalism. He said people were crowd surfing at the CNN tent, where the network airs live political coverage.

“ASU has a reputation of students getting kind of wild,” Eickmeyer said.

A political prankster planted a pattern of different species of grass on a campus lawn. Once the seeds matured, they spelled “W ’04” in darker green letters. A lawnmower erased the message last week.

Erhart said the mess of media and out-of-towners had its nuances, but it’s a generally a positive experience. A memorial for soldiers killed in Iraq was planned for Hayden Lawn, where the grass was greener in a Bush-supporting pattern.


The memorial was forced elsewhere when the CNN tent set up on the lawn.

“A lot of traveling protesters are starting to arrive on campus and are getting in the way, but it’s all more of a benefit than a distraction,” Erhart said.

Politics may have been on the minds of students and media in town for the debate, but not everyone in Tempe shared the same enthusiasm for politics. When asked if she planned to watch any of the debate, one Tempe resident quickly said, “No!” before hanging up on a reporter.

During Friday’s second debate, some Missourians echoed that disinterest in the debate.

“They call it a debate, but it’s not a debate,” said Dylan Atchley, 22, walking on Skinker Boulevard at 7:50 p.m., shortly before the debate began. “It’s two corporate pawns standing behind a podium and dealing out what they think the American people want to hear. … It’s a ploy for the sheep,” he said, pointing to the area where hundreds were rallying earlier outside the Washington University campus.

Atchley said it was undemocratic to have a “debate” that’s not open to third-party candidates.

The most important event in St. Louis for Bill and Julie Wallace was the Scottish Festival in Forest Park. The couple from Independence, Mo., was riding the MetroLink at 8:30 p.m. from the Central Park West station.

The debate wasn’t particularly important for fellow MetroLink riders Jermon Brown, 20, from East St. Louis, and Lorien Thomas, 23, of St. Louis. They both plan to vote and aren’t likely to be swayed.

“Get his a** out of office,” Jermon Brown said emphatically. “Please.”

His beef with the president was regarding overtime pay. Thomas’ was with funding cuts for after-school programs.

SIU senior in photography Jon McAlister said he also plans to vote, even if the debates are bogus.

“They have the whole thing memorized in their heads. It’s all planned,” he said. “They need to freestyle a little bit.”

Angela Overholt, a junior in photography, said she would be printing in the photo lab during tonight’s debate. “It’s really hard to listen to Bush,” she said.