Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Outtakes—Debates Worked

By Rick Outzen

The political pundits and campaign operatives have dissected the third and final presidential debate held on the campus of the University of Nevada Las Vegas. We have read, heard, and seen clips about the memorable one-liners–Putin’s puppet, bad hombres, very sleazy campaign, nasty woman, etc.– and about Donald Trump not expressly saying he would accept the results of the election.

However, the lasting impression for me was how great our democracy is. We held three debates for the top office in this land at three universities. The effort was non-partisan.

Established in 1987, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) corporation. Its primary purpose is to sponsor and produce debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and to undertake research and educational activities relating to the debates.

After the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960, presidential debates weren’t held again until 1976. The subsequent debates in 1980 and 1984 were hastily arranged and subject to cancellation if other side got upset about the arrangements. The CPD changed that. Formed by then-chairmen of the Democratic and Republican National Committees, Paul G. Kirk, Jr., and Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., the organization has sponsored all the presidential debates from 1988 to this election cycle.

Having universities host the debates has added another element to the debates. The students, faculty and administration of the University of Nevada Las Vegas were excited to host the event. Many wore their school colors and T-shirts with “The Road to the White House goes through UNLV” on them.

For UNLV, the debate was a teaching moment. University President Len Jessup talked about the national lecture series the school held tied to the debate topics. UNLV partnered with the local school district. Its nationally ranked debate team worked with the Clark County high school debate teams, watching the debates live and analyzing them.

Over 5,000 journalists attended the event from dozens of nations and international news networks. It was exciting to see Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Mark Cuban, Emmitt Smith, and other well-known people, as well as talk to Chuck Todd, Chris Matthews, Rick Wilson, and the team from C-Span.

But best of all, voters heard directly from the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates without filters in each debate. We got to measure the candidates as they stood side by side on the stage, something that rarely happens in other countries.

The debates are testimonies to our election system being one of the finest in the world.