NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — More than 100 College of Charleston students were offered the opportunity to attend the debate here this evening, and those who took the opportunity will hear from the four remaining candidates in the Republican primary election as they make their final cases to the voters of South Carolina.
Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum are participating in a presidential debate tonight, hosted by CNN and the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. The debate comes just two days before the Jan. 21 Republican primary.
Unlike the more intimate Bully Pulpit events that have happened on the College’s campus over the past few weeks, tonight’s debate at North Charleston Coliseum is the first opportunity many students will have to see all of the candidates speak about the issues.
But for freshman Henry Mullin, attending the debate is not about the issues, or at least not right away.
“To me, the biggest mystery is what happens during commercial breaks,” Mullin, an 18-year-old from Charleston, S.C., said of what he’s looking forward to tonight.
Mullin, who will vote in his first presidential election come November, says this week has been the best to be a student in Charleston.
“Charleston has felt like Washington, D.C.,” he said, and tonight, he wants to hear from the candidates from the perspective of a student who has three more years to go before entering the workforce.
“As a college student who is paying all of this money for an education, the economy is the biggest issue,” Mullin said.
Nivardo Vivar, 20, a junior political science major from Myrtle Beach, S.C. is attending the debate tonight, and says all of the candidates have their flaws. Tonight, he’s hoping to see them talk about their plans if elected.
“I’m looking to see clarification, mostly, on what they are going to do. So far, it’s mostly been attacks on each other,” Vivar said.
Vivar, who was invited to the debate by the chair of the political science department, Dr. Phillip Jos, says the economy and immigration reform are key issues he wants to hear about tonight.
“My mother and father are from Mexico, and they immigrated legally. I was born here, and am an American citizen, but immigration reform is still a big issue for me,” Vivar said.
Katie Benson, a sophomore political science major from Greenville, S.C., is an independent voter who will be in the audience at tonight’s debate.
She says she is optimistic and open to the candidates surprising her tonight, even though she says she’s “not particularly thrilled” about Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.
Earlier today, she heard Ron Paul speak in the Stern Center gardens. She said she wants to hear more about Paul’s economic plan.
“He talked today about cutting $1 trillion from the budget, and I wonder what exactly he is going to cut,” Benson said.
As for what she wants to learn tonight, “I just want to know more,” she said.
Opportunities like attending a presidential debate, or seeing a candidate on campus, helps make a College of Charleston education, and the City of Charleston unique. Unfortunately, the opportunity isn’t open to every student, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.
“I believe that The Bully Pulpit Series provides an enriching experience that complements what they are learning in the classroom,” said Amanda Ruth-McSwain, director of the Bully Pulpit series speaking about the non-partisan series which brought four presidential candidates and three major news networks to campus this campaign season.
Dr. Brian McGee, the president’s chief of staff, says the Bully Pulpit series and the opportunity to attend the debate as a student is a unique one, directly attributable to the College’s close relationships with media outlets and political candidates.
“Students at the College of Charleston have extraordinary opportunities because of the Bully Pulpit series and media interest in the early South Carolina primary,” McGee said.
These opportunities, he said, are partly due to relationships the College, specifically the Department of Communication, has with news outlets and political candidates.
Katie Benson said seeing all of the happenings on campus has been great.
“I think it’s fun to see everyone being interested and getting involved around campus,” she said.
The debate will be part of the fun, too.
Colin Johnson contributed reporting.