The eyes of the nation are on Danville, Ky., tonight as it welcomes vice-presidential candidates Paul Ryan and Joe Biden, and city leaders at the smallest city to host a vice-presidential debate are confident they can pull off the event.
The Boyle County set is just a bit larger than back in 2000, when it was also the smallest community to host the nationally televised debate at Centre College in Danville between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman
But in the past dozen years, the community’s confidence has grown, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader, and since few cities only get to hold one debate, let alone two, this is the city’s chance to shine.
The national media started arriving in earnest on Wednesday, with MSNBC’s huge portable stage arising behind the statue of President Abraham Lincoln at Centre College, and media outlets began staking out their places outside the college’s Norton Centre for the Arts, where the debate is being held.
The college’s gymnasium is now a massive media center, complete with the usual “spin alley” where representatives of each campaign will speak.
So for a few short hours this week, Danville will expand to include the rest of the world, and city leaders say their town is ready.
“All of a sudden, people have a different concept of Kentucky,” said Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney. “There’s a whole lot of people who have a concept of Kentucky, and it isn’t with shoes.”
In many ways, the small Kentucky city resembles the rest of the United States. It’s been affected by job losses and has had a slow recovery, but there have been some economic increases in the past 10 years, and Danville officials pointed out the community is continuing to grow.
This time around, though, the climate around the debate itself has changed. For example, a Speaker’s Park has been set up at Centre College, where Biden and Ryan are debating tonight, but as of Thursday afternoon, only a few people appeared to speak.
Security is tight, and “Fewer people are coming because security is so tight and they have to walk a mile to get here,” said Daniel Morgan, a volunteer for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, who said he was able to ride his bicycle right up the field in 2000.
Protesters are also angry about being corralled into Speaker’s Park and not given access to the national media. The park is far away from the festivities that surround the debate and isolated by security checkpoints. Students and visitors for the debate are all several blocks away, and protesters said it takes away from the whole purpose of Speaker’s Park.
However, keeping the protesters away from the crowds follows the model of the national conventions, which designated “Free Speech Zones” away from the convention halls.
Elsewhere on the campus today, hundreds gathered to enjoy live music during the Vice Presidential Debate Festival, sponsored by AARP. People at the concert said the atmosphere was cordial, despite the different supporters attending.
Della and Dave Scheurich of Danville, sporting “Romney/Ryan” stickers on the backs of their folding chairs, said they’re thrilled the event is in Danville, and everyone was just at the festival to have fun.
“When you walk by somebody with opposing signage, they smile,” said Dave Scheurich, a retired general manager of Woodford Reserve distillery. “We’re not throwing rocks at each other.”
In addition, more than 2,000 students attended a virtual town-hall forum sponsored by the Global Center for Connected Campuses, Centre College, and Connected Nation, and more than 150 high school students participated in person at Centre College.
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the youngest secretary of state in the country, was on hand to urge teens and college students to get involved in politics.
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