Behind the curtains at Hofstra University’s presidential debate


Hofstra University cheerleaders and students gathered at each TV studio to wave signs and chant for their candidates – or their school. AJC/Greg Bluestein

Hempstead, N.Y. – For a school that dropped its football program seven years ago, hosting a presidential debate might be as close as it gets to a gameday atmosphere.

Cheerleaders launched into the air behind TV cameras, students waved snarky signs and pep bands roamed campus. Much of Monday could have been a scene from ESPN’s College GameDay  – except, perhaps, for the team from the AARP wielding over-sized Social Security cards saying “Take A Stand.”


A group of Hofstra University students showed early armed with catchy signs. Greg Bluestein/AJC


Thomas Strong, a freshman at Hofstra University, has long awaited the debate. Greg Bluestein/AJC

Hundreds of reporters from across the globe – your correspondent is sitting between a reporter from Haaretz in Israel and another from the Toronto Globe & Mail, and two rows of BBC reporters sit in front of me – filed into the cavernous media center to watch the highly-anticipated showdown between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

About a third of the space has been cordoned off for the “spin room,” when surrogates flood the space to boast of their candidate’s prowess and their opponent’s gaffes.

In the hours before the debate began, though, it was outside the convention hall where the real action was unfolding. A tent serving local New York brews was open – and packed – around lunchtime. Most major TV outlets have set up giant studios outside the university and students came armed with an array of catchy signs.

Hofstra, a private college on Long Island, knows the routine. It held presidential debates in 2008 and 2012, and is the only university to host three consecutive presidential debates. Droves of security officers descended on the area, and administrators canceled Monday classes to prepare for the debate.

Thomas Strong, a Hofstra freshman, was among the thousands of students who showed up anyways. He wore a shirt declaring that “The Road to the White House Goes Through HOFSTRA” and enthusiasm to match.

“The energy here is contagious,” said Strong, minutes after trying to get on camera during an MSNBC live shot. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The rest of our debate coverage:

More: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are deadlocked ahead of first debate

More: How to watch Monday’s presidential debate – and what to watch for

More: Where to catch the debates in Georgia

More: Why this year’s presidential debate could be more pivotal than usual

More: Tim Kaine’s message to voters at Gwinnett’s Fiesta Mexicana


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