'It's akin to a Super Bowl': Texas State to host first presidential debate in 2024
The debate, set to take place Sept. 16, will be the first of three scheduled presidential debates. It's the first time a presidential debate has been held in Texas. The university is the only one in Texas to count a U.S. president — Lyndon B. Johnson — among its alums.
“So we think it is very fitting that we are hosting the very first Texas presidential debate,” Texas State President Kelly Damphousse said.
Damphousse said when he became president of Texas State last year, there had already been some discussion about applying to host a presidential debate. He said one of the first meetings he had when he started July 1, 2022, was about this opportunity.
“We thought we had a reasonable shot of getting this," he said, "but we also thought it would provide an opportunity for an institution like ours that cares about civic engagement, that looks like the state of Texas in demographics — 95% or more of our students are from the State of Texas — to engage in this idea of civil discourse around a very important presidential election."
The debate will also provide a rare educational opportunity for students, Damphousse said, even though most will not be able to fit into the Strahan Arena. The facility has the capacity for 10,000 people; Texas State has nearly 39,000 students.
“They may not all get in there, but we’ll have a lot of opportunities for them,” he said. “We’re a very student-centric university. Student success is one of our most important values, so we’re excited these students will get a chance to do something that doesn’t happen very often on very many campuses.”
Texas State’s Executive Vice President for Operations and Chief Financial Officer Eric Algoe said the university ultimately submitted hundreds of pages of materials as part of the application process.
“Luckily, the Commission on Presidential Debates and many of the individuals that work there have been doing this for decades. They really know how to put on a world-class event that draws a global television audience,” he said. “It’s akin to a Super Bowl.”
Algoe said hosting the debate is going to be a massive undertaking. Texas State has dedicated about $5 million to host the event.
“That includes upgrading infrastructure around the arena, providing security, parking, tents, draping inside the arena, carpeting and so on,” Damphousse said. “Some of the things that we’ll be doing will be temporary; others will be permanent improvements in infrastructure inside the arena.”
Damphousse said Texas State will be fundraising to support the event. The former chair of the Texas State University System Board of Regents, Jack Martin, will head up the Texas State Presidential Debate Committee.
Although the university is bearing millions of dollars in costs, Damphousse said, the debate should bring big benefits to the local economy because of the influx of visitors.
“Hotels, restaurants and so on will see a significant increase during the weeks leading up to the event and the night of the event, itself,” he said.
Damphousse said he thinks Texas State’s location was a significant selling point.
“I think the fact that we were close to two very large cities in Austin and San Antonio with two great airports for easy access made this an attractive site,” he said.
Virginia State University and the University of Utah are hosting the second and third presidential debates. Lafayette College in Pennsylvania is hosting a vice presidential debate Sept. 25.