FARMVILLE, Va. — Vice presidential candidates Tim Kaine and Mike Pence, often overshadowed by their running mates, can get the nation’s undivided attention on Oct. 4 at their one and only debate.
The night also will provide a moment in the spotlight for their host, Longwood University, a little-known public school often eclipsed by larger in-state rivals.
The liberal arts university with about 5,000 students is trying to make the most of its star turn by sprucing up the campus, hosting special guest speakers and trying to bolster its name recognition.
“It’s a really historic time for Longwood,” said school president W. Taylor Reveley IV.
Reveley said the school is spending about $5 million to host the debate, but he’s certain the return on investment in marketing alone will be many times greater. Applications for admissions and alumni giving already have increased notably since the school was announced as the debate’s host.
Construction crews have been working steadily preparing the debate stage, and the media area alone needs more than 30,000 feet of various wires. About 1,000 students and staff have volunteered to help during the debates, and there’s a palpable sense of excitement on campus, Reveley said.
“The debates are like my Super Bowl,” said student Canon Cochran, a political science major.
Located in rural Farmville in central Virginia, the debate will be on home turf for the Democrat. Kaine is a former Virginia governor and currently represents the Old Dominion in the U.S. Senate. The Harvard Law-trained former trial lawyer will be squaring off against Pence, the GOP governor of Indiana, who is a former radio host and congressman.
Farmville’s history could lend itself to debate questions in a campaign season focusing on racial issues at times. Across the street from the campus is a statue honoring Confederate soldiers; Farmville saw some of the Civil War’s last fighting.
In 1951, students at Farmville’s all-black Moton High School walked out to protest overcrowding, sparking a lawsuit that joined with others and led to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that struck down school segregation. A field behind the high school, which is now a museum, will be a place where activists can gather during the debate.
“Farmville is a very natural place to do this because it really is a crossroads of American history,” Reveley said.
The school has a full calendar of events planned ahead of the debate. They include screenings of movies related to political campaigns, an exhibition of campaign photography by The Associated Press, several notable speakers including top aides to former vice presidents, and a late-night pancake breakfast when it’s all over.