First Presidential Debate Moves from South Bend to Cleveland Amid COVID Fears

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The University of Notre Dame announced Monday that it had withdrawn as host for the first 2020 presidential debate.

Citing coronavirus concerns, Notre Dame President John I. Jenkins announced that the college in South Bend, Indiana could not host the event. “The necessary health precautions would have greatly diminished the educational value of hosting the debate on our campus,” Jenkins said.

Next Stop, Cleveland

The first debate, will now take place in Cleveland on September 29. Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic will co-host the debate on the Health Education campus. President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will go head-to-head at the campus’ Samson Pavilion.

Case Western President Barbara Snyder said she was “honored to host the first debate” in a statement.

“This pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of health care and scientific discovery in unprecedented ways,” she wrote. “To have the presidential candidates discuss these issues in our innovative learning space represents a tremendous opportunity for both institutions – and our entire region.”

Will There Be A Studio Audience?

Debate organizers have yet to decide whether to permit a live studio audience at this year’s presidential debates. Traditionally, debates take place on a stage in front of a large crowd, though some have criticized the audience for turning the debate into a performance.

While audience members are usually told not to clap or cheer during the debate, spectators rarely follow the rule. As a result, candidates often focus on delivering one-liners or snide remarks that excite the crowd, detracting from the substance of the debate.

Still, an audience-free debate is not unprecedented. After several lively Democratic primary debates, each in front of an audience, Biden and Bernie Sanders faced off one last time on March 15, without spectators. Just as the pandemic was beginning, and on the verge of Biden clinching the party’s nomination, the two remaining candidates stood six feet apart in a mostly-empty studio. Though far less vivacious, it allowed the candidates to engage in meaningful conversation, free from audience interference.

Meanwhile, President Trump, who famously revels in working up a crowd, has been starved of the raucous rallies that powered his 2016 candidacy. Whether he would consent to a debate without a studio audience is yet unclear. But as the state of the pandemic continues to look bleak, and as universities choose to keep campuses closed for the coming semester, there may be few options. Though it would break tradition, the debate in Cleveland will likely have no spectators.

Other Debates

The second and third debates will take place October 15 in Miami, and October 22 in Nashville. Additionally, a vice-presidential debate between incumbent Mike Pence and Joe Biden’s running mate will occur in Salt Lake City on October 7.

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