ST. LOUIS, MO. - Amanda Gallop carries a prized possession on her smart phone as she walks across campus. An email from “Debate 2016 at Washington University in St. Louis.” It tells her she made it in the top 100 of the 10,239 students who entered the lottery for debate tickets and that she’s likely to be issued a seat inside the debate hall.
“I’ve traveled to the Netherlands. I’ve been to South Africa. I’ve traveled to Israel,” says the college senior. “I’ve been all over the whole world my whole life and I don’t think anything will compare to this event.”
Home to five debates
The second of three U.S. presidential debates between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump will be held Sunday night, making it the fifth time a presidential debate has been held at Washington University in St. Louis.
This year’s will make history because it will be the first time the Commission on Presidential Debates has included two debate moderators.“ This particular debate will, for the first time, blend questions from citizens with questions the moderators will get from social media,” said CPD Executive Director Janet Brown.
Commission employees have been working all week to turn the athletic facility at Washington University in St. Louis into a debate hall. The stage floor is covered in a blue carpet with a double red ring containing white stars.At the center of the ring are two bar stools. Republican Trump will sit on the left; Democrat Clinton on the right.
On both sides of the stage are 20 chairs for the undecided voters who will ask the questions in a town hall debate format. The two moderators will sit at a round table at the front of the stage, facing the candidates. The walls are adorned with the patriotic designs of the Declaration of Independence, a flag and a huge bald eagle with the words, “The Union and the Constitution Forever.”
The debate has nearly been overshadowed by a controversy surrounding a video of Republican Donald Trump. The video, obtained by The Washington Post, is off-camera banter between Trump and a male TV entertainment host. In the 2005 video, Trump uses lewd comments about his conquests with women.It has set off a call for Trump to resign his nomination for the presidency. Trump issued a video apology late Friday night and has said that there is no chance he will step down.
Gallop is a fervent Hillary Clinton supporter. She said her choice was once again confirmed with the new video released Friday night. “It reminds me that there is only one candidate [Democrat Hillary Clinton] who treats all humans with respect and dignity and does not objectify.”
Reactions from other college students were also quick and decisive. As a senior majoring in Bio Medical Engineering, Taylor Pemberton likes Donald Trump’s promise to create more jobs. She said his apology Friday night “made me want to vote for him even more” since he acknowledged his mistake and showed that he is capable of change.
But Republican Grant Koby disagrees. Up until Friday night, he was ready to pull the lever for Trump. But now “I think this video crosses the line by way too much.” He said he will consider changing his vote to Clinton.
Gateway to the West
The university campus is a quick drive from downtown St. Louis, Missouri, which lies along the Mississippi River and is often known as the “Gateway to the West.” The middle of the city features an iconic 192-meter stainless steel arch that commemorates early settlements to the west.
Erica and Jahnte Bates from Chicago were visiting the arch with their three-year-old son Noah.
They huddled in the shade over their iPhones, watching the Trump video as their young son looked around from his stroller at other tourists. Jahnte isn’t surprised at Trump’s derogatory comments on the tape. He is a registered independent who said he will vote for the Libertarian Gary Johnson or the Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
“I strongly disagree with Hillary Clinton.She’s not fit to be president. But at least Trump’s honest. He’s an ass and a bigot. But at least he’s an honest ass and bigot.”
The St. Louis arch opened in 1964. A local company, Bethlehem Steel, provided the cables for an elevator that takes tourists to the top. Daryl Schaetty spliced those cables together and was one of the first to ride the elevator on a test run.
After the recent Trump video, the 63-year-old Schaetty says he has had enough of Trump. “I don’t know how people vote for him. The statement he makes and he’s going to run your country? Be your president? No, I don’t think so.” Schaetty said he will not cast a vote in this election.
Jack Tran from Los Angeles never supported either candidate. He finds it strange that Donald Trump is still in the race given his background; “it’s kind of weird he is still standing.” Tran said the lack of a good candidate reveals a hole in the American political system that allows corruption and backdoor deals to flourish.
Serena Witzke and her husband Sean stood with their eyes squinting toward the sky, trying to take a photo of the top of the arch. She laughs at all the fuss and says she won’t hold it against Trump.“ A guy will be a guy.I look at guys, he looks at girls. We are alive!”
The state of Missouri voted Republican in the last four presidential elections. The most recent polls conducted late last month indicate that could happen a fifth time, with Trump in the lead by 10 percentage points. But the tape had not been released by then.