Student Turnout Low for Sunday Morning Debate

The debate for U.S. Senate receives overall good grades, calls for more traditional format.


By Rebecca Sitten

Special to News


TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 24, 2010) – University of South Florida students didn’t come out in droves for the early morning Senate debate Sunday.


But some of those who didn't win one of the lottery tickets to attend the live debate and stopped by the Marshall Student Center to watch a live feed of the contest didn’t stick around long.


They were pulled from the “Watch Party” to fill empty seats in USF’s Theater I that resulted from some of the tickets never being distributed.


The students - whether they watched the debate live or monitored the feed - had plenty to say about the media’s coverage of the debate, how Candy Crowley handled the rival candidates, and how USF fared as a forum for the big political event.


Jamie Kenney, a USF student, said he received numerous e-mails and saw flyers around campus about the debate. He said the university promoted the event well. Regardless of the advertising, only about 100 people  -- many of them reporters -- were in the student watch party in the ballroom, which could have held 900.


Student Ken Costa was disappointed by the student turnout. He did not think USF represented itself well to CNN and the national audience. Costa said students laughed and applauded even after CNN staff instructed them not to. This disrespectful behavior, Costa said, won’t afford USF many similar opportunities.


Student body president Cesar Hernandez agrees. He said students “need to hold their applause to a minimum, their chattering to a minimum. We have been advocating to have these events here, but the student body needs to meet us halfway.”


Regardless of student behavior, CNN was so impressed by USF’s professionalism that the university was chosen to be the only university so far to host both  a Senate and gubernatorial debate, Hernandez said.


 Most students said Crowley conducted the debate fairly, but one student said during a commercial break that Crowley led the questions and pushed her own agenda. Student Eric Blake said he would prefer a more formal debate.


A few students said they were disappointed that neither Marco Rubio nor Charlie Crist showed up at the advertised “Meet and Greet” in the ballroom after the debate.


Student Lindsey Lacich said, “I wanted Marco Rubio as my Facebook picture, so it’s kind of depressing.”


Rebecca Sitten is a graduate journalism student in the School of Mass Communications. The student team focused on “covering the coverage” of the political debates on USF.