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Drake Explodes Around the Democratic Debate

Posted: January 15, 2020 | By: Madeleine Leigh Tagged: Blog

Drake University hosted the seventh Democratic Debate on Jan. 14, and the entire campus went crazy.  Even without a ticket to the event itself, I saw the impact big political happenings have on the fabric of the community around them.  These six presidential candidates drew all kinds of people looking for media attention and the experience of a lifetime.

CNN and the Des Moines Register hosted the debate from Sheslow Auditorium, which normally has a capacity of around 700 people; for debate night, roughly 200 seats were removed for the stage and various camera equipment, making it the smallest debate venue to date in this election.  Across campus, the Bell Center hosted dozens of reporters in the spin room reminiscent of a standardized testing center, with long wooden tables littering the entire space.  But that only scratches the surface of the insane amount of political activity drawn to this kind of event.

The Poor People’s Campaign held a march down University Ave. and around our campus late afternoon.  Roughly a hundred people, led by four pallbearers and a coffin to symbolize the 250,000 people who die of poverty every year, shouting that their voices will be heard and that candidates should not remain silent on issues of poverty any longer.

A man stood on the steps leading down to 25th street with signs depicting the Earth calling for climate action now.

Senator Amy Klobuchar’s campaign held a rally at the corner of Carpenter and 25th, chanting, “I-O-W-A for Klobuchar, she’s right next door,” among other things, calling to Sen. Klobuchar’s claim that she can represent Midwestern interests because she hails from Minnesota.  Attendees left her signs scattered all over campus when Drake University’s administration barred the wooden staffs from buildings.

A lone Trump supporter drove up and parked in a tractor across the street from Klobuchar’s people, while an air banner plane flew overhead saying President Trump supports Iowa farmers.

In the early evening, a group of approximately 20 people marched in a line through Drake’s Robert D. and Billie Ray Promenade chanting, “Up up with liberation, down down with deportation.”  They held individual signs with string light letters spelling out, “Stop Deportations.”

Klobuchar’s campaign held a debate watch party on campus.  A crowd of largely white and middle-aged or older attendees sat at tables covered with white tablecloths in Parents Hall in the Olmsted Center, sampling the free finger-food and various alcoholic beverages purchased from Sodexo Catering Services. 

Her event contrasted neatly with Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign’s watch party just downstairs, with rows of chairs set in front of Pomerantz Stage and cramped standing room at the very back. The crowd was more diverse in age and race, college students sitting next to retirees.  Warren staffers gave people the spiel on why Sen. Warren will be the one to beat Trump, and how they can help her achieve victory by volunteering their time and donating their money. 

Former Secretary Julian Castro gave a stump speech supporting Sen. Warren now that he has endorsed her; followed, of course, by a selfie line wrapping around the room and through the Olmsted Breezeway.

Drake University itself hosted a debate watch party in Cartwright Hall.  To get there, you had to either pass under the drone that hovered over the center of campus well into the night…or pass through the sightlines of the sniper posted on top of the Fine Arts Center. 

Even Drake’s watch party had press attending.  Yilber Vega, a correspondent with CNN Español, stayed through the whole event, interviewing Drake students afterward about their thoughts on the debate, myself included.

This whole day was an experience that made me wonder about the political circus our society has created around these kinds of events.  The debate itself is one thing.  What I found fascinating were all these camp followers who tried to cash in on the intense news media presence, hoping to gain exposure and support for their campaigns.