Virginia Tech held a different kind of Thursday night game yesterday, the final debate for the state’s closely-fought Senate seat.
Both former governors, Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine are running for Virginia’s vacant seat in an election that could help determine which party holds the majority in the Senate come Nov. 6.
The battle began on campus even before either candidate even took the stage, as crowds gathered outside Squire’s Student Center.
Daniel Recktenwald, a senior political science major and vice president of Young Democrats, was one of many students waving political signs on Alumni Mall.
“It’s important to have the debate here at school,” Rechtenwald said. “Having a debate for a nationally important race as close as this brings a lot of tension to Virginia Tech.”
Tech, partnering with local NBC-affiliate WSLS, earned the honor of hosting the debate earlier this fall after rounds of negotiations with both campaigns.
University President Charles Steger says hosting is an important role for a school to fill.
“This is the sort of |function that universities can play to society, bringing people together to share views,” Steger said. “Most importantly, it gives our students the opportunity to hear directly from the candidates on what the key issues are.”
All 500 seats in the Haymarket Theater were filled. After each campaign reserved its seats, the university and WSLS were alotted 150 seats. They were available for free at the Squire’s box office at noon on Tuesday and sold out within twenty minutes.
Matthew Hall, a Republican from Ferrum College, was one of the lucky individuals with a ticket. He traveled an hour and a half to be at Tech for the debate.
“Half of all college students are graduating without a job,” Hall said. “We need to focus on that. That’s why it’s important to have the debate here at Virginia Tech.”
“This debate is important because it’s important to vote in not just the presidential election,” said Amanda Anger, a Democrat and junior international studies major. “It’s about things that affect us more locally.”
The two candidates sparred heatedly on the issues of military spending cuts and the upcoming possibility of sequestration, which would result in $500 billion in cuts to defense. Other major points of debate were medical costs and the Affordable Care Act, plans to balance the budget, as well as foreign affairs with Africa and the Middle East after the embassy attacks in Libya and Egypt.
“Tech and WSLS did a great job of hosting (the debate),” Kaine said. “Partly because it’s the last one, partly because we’re doing the last one here at a place I really care about, but I felt like I did pretty well.”
Thomas May, a senior mathematics major, felt that both candidates fared well during the debate, though Kaine had the better performance.
“I personally felt like they talked about sequestration a little too much,” May said. “I would personally have liked to hear more about college financial aid, since it’s a very important issue to most of us here at Virginia Tech.”
While some thought Kaine led the debate, others felt that Allen was the winner Thursday night.
“I think Gov. Allen presented his plan to lead (Virginia) into a great revival in our country and presented his comeback for America,” Hall said. “He did an excellent job with that.”
This debate was the last of five before Virginia voters go to the ballot on Nov. 6.
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