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Presidential debate: Sights and sounds as the candidates tangled

Rhonda Miles shares her experience volunteering for the debate

Debate volunteer Rhonda Miles of O'Fallon, a Washington University alumna and current graduate student, talks about volunteering at the presidential debate.
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Debate volunteer Rhonda Miles of O'Fallon, a Washington University alumna and current graduate student, talks about volunteering at the presidential debate.

Rhonda Miles wants folks to pay attention.

The 53-year-old O’Fallon resident and graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis was a volunteer on campus Sunday as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debated for the second time this election season. She said volunteering on debate day “would be a wonderful experience, something I could never do again.”

“I think everybody should be a part of politics. This is something that comes around once every four years. People should be involved in who our elected officials are,” Miles said.

That said, she still hasn’t found what she’s looking for.

“My concern is we’re not talking about issues. We’re slinging mud, we’re trying to make the other person look bad, but we’re not talking about health care, we’re not talking about the deficit, we’re not talking about the things that will matter for my kids in the future,” Miles said. “I’ve not heard them talk about any of those things, we’re still trying to make the other look bad.”

Sights and sounds

Trump supporter Thomas Hildebrand, 20, of Alton, is the co-founder of the Missouri Youth for Trump. He’s a chemical engineering graduate student at Washington University.

Hildebrand said he wasn’t worried that a recording of Trump using crude language about women will hurt in the long run.

“I think ultimately any words of Mr. Trump pale in comparison to the actions of Secretary Clinton,” Hildebrand said. He also referred to emails released by WikiLeaks, which show Clinton has conflicting stances she shares privately and publicly.

“I don’t like to hear that a presidential candidate likes to keep her true positions hidden from the public,” Hildebrand said.

He said he’s worried about Midwest manufacturing jobs leaving and cited Granite City Steel, now idled.

“It’s an incredible domino effect of what happens to manufacturing, and Trump is the only candidate harping on it,” Hildebrand said.

“Really what makes this election interesting to me, especially as an engineer, this is the election of Americanism versus globalism,” Hildebrand added. “Are we going to continue to be satisfied with American products being made in other countries, being sold to us under American brands, or are we going to try to, through a combination of better tax laws, and sort of resurgent populist attitude, to bring companies back?”

Haley Dolosic, 24, of Troy, is the Graduate Professional Council president at Washington University.

The doctorate student helped plan student events and parties, including a Debate Fair on campus.

Dolosic said the event was “students dialoguing with students to make the conversation happen.” He said the goal was to allow students to be involved, as there were a limited amount of tickets available to students for the actual debate.

Dolosic said having the debate on campus helped get more students, especially first-time voters, registered, even in their home states.

“I think it’s really exciting that it happens on universities, because it means candidates are being reminded of the universities’ role in education and in politics and in society,” Dolosic said.

Party atmosphere

Campus was festive as students gathered to show support for candidates, show disdain toward others or just take in the experience.

Major television networks, including CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, C-SPAN and Eurovision, had large stages set up outside the debate venue and broadcast live from the scene all day Sunday. A temporary press room in the university’s athletic center was built to cater to 750 more reporters from around the world who were churning out content for websites, Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

Standing in the courtyard where CNN had its main broadcast stage, students crowded around the broadcast and stood in line for a CNN photo booth.

Freshman Natalia Oledzka from New York City had a sign mocking Trump, saying he has small hands and depicting him as a tyrannosaurus rex. She supports Clinton.

“I support her policies, especially about Planned Parenthood, immigration, health care,” Oledzka said. “I’m pro-choice. … I also feel she’s more qualified than him.”

She also objected to Trump’s taped comments about women.

“I don’t understand how anyone can support him if he’s saying stuff like that,” Oledzka said. “He doesn’t respect women. People say that was a long time ago, but he was 50-something years old when he said that. It’s not like he was a 20-year-old. It’s not right to say anything like that from anybody.”

Supporters of Green Party candidate Jill Stein rallied just off campus in Forest Park.

Stein was scheduled to appear, but organizers said she was feeling ill after being on the campaign for months. Those at the rally were calling for the debates to be opened up to allow Stein to participate.

However, the Commission on Presidential Debates requires candidates to have at least 15 percent support in five selected national polls in order to make the debate stage, which neither Stein nor Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson meet.

Just down Skinker Boulevard from the Green Party rally, Andrea Lauer of Brooklyn, New York and 21 other women prepared to march onto campus wearing white jumpsuits with black trim drawn to look like bricks in a wall.

A closer look showed some of the bricks contained words and phrases Donald Trump has used to describe women, including “disgusting animal,” “slob” and “bimbo.”

“This is a public art piece that really is able to demonstrate that we could re-appropriate the phrases that Trump has used in such a negative way. Take them back and create a wall to block him from the White House,” Lauer said. “It’s about conversations. If you want to look, you want to stare, you want to say something, great. Let’s just engage.”

Public officials also made appearances near campus ahead of the debate.

A bus tour kickoff rally outside the Missouri History Museum included Democratic Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, Democratic U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay of St. Louis and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

“We would be doing a disservice if we don’t get behind (Clinton),” Clay said. He added that the people could “disarm hate” by supporting her.

Adults in the room

In what’s been a contentious election season, a lesson could be learned from Washington University’s College Republicans and College Democrats, who’ve been engaged in a mature dialogue for weeks leading up to Sunday’s debate.

James (Jimmy) Loomis, president of the College Democrats, said his group and the College Republicans are the “adults in the room” on campus.

“Just a couple days ago the College Democrats and College Republicans issued a press release reaffirming their commitment to a civil, open and respectful dialogue. Come tonight, we want to show that we’re the adults in the room to set an example for the countless Americans who’ve become so disenchanted with the political process, they’re not even going to vote,” Loomis, who is from Ladue, Mo., said Sunday. “I think what you’re going to see going on inside that debate hall and outside are going to be two diametrically opposite reactions.”

It’s something Loomis never thought he’d see in a campaign.

“Usually young adults can learn from adults, especially people who want to lead our nation, and it’s the other way around this election cycle,” he said.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

Tobias Wall: 618-239-2501, @Wall_BND

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