DANVILLE — They’re calling it the “Thrill in the ‘Ville,” the upcoming face-off on national television between vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan in this pretty central Kentucky town of about 16,000.
You might reasonably wonder if all 16,000 are thrilled with the prospect of thousands of interlopers and an invasion of media types. Or if little, private Centre College — enrollment 1,340 — which is hosting the debate, can handle it.
Not to worry. Danville and Centre have been through this already, in 2000, and it’s hard to find anyone who isn’t “thrilled” by the prospect of the Oct. 11 event.
“I think people are pretty excited,” said Amy Yeager, sales associate at Centre’s bookstore housed in a building with the Hub Coffee House and Café in downtown Danville. “I haven’t heard anyone who is dreading it.”
Yeager is volunteering to help direct visitors and media during the event and she’s been told to expect up to 2,500 to 4,000 reporters and media personnel and another 5,000 or so for a festival on the Centre campus that day.
Those estimates might be low, according to Dr. Clarence Wyatt, professor of history at Centre and one of the debate co-chairs. He said as many as 10,000 media representatives may be there, including foreign journalists from 17 countries.
He and Centre Vice President Richard Trollinger, Wyatt’s co-chair, spoke outside the Norton Center for the Arts where the debate will occur. In the background were temporary concrete barriers topped with chain-link fences, all part of the enormous security.
Wyatt and Trollinger served as debate co-chairmen in 2000 when Centre was the site for a debate between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman. “The team is largely the same this time,” Trollinger said. But security is even stricter this time around.
“It’s a bigger show this time,” Wyatt said. “It’s more complex in every way. It’s post 9-11 and there’s an incumbent (Biden) this time. But we started off higher on the learning curve than we did in 2000.”
It’s a really big show.
The seating area in Norton Center has been altered to allow seven television platforms perched high above the stage. Additional air conditioning units will ensure a 68-degree temperature on stage where the candidates and moderator, ABC’s Martha Radatz, will sit for 90 minutes under hot television lights, according to Laura Coleman Pritchard, Centre’s assistant director of communications. The two campaigns insist, however, the units not produce enough air movement to muss either candidate’s hair.
Outside, room is set aside for 70 satellite broadcast trucks. Any vehicle parked inside the secure zone must be there 24 hours before the debate, left unlocked for a Secret Service security sweep, and cannot leave until after the debate.
Across the street in Sutcliffe Hall, in a converted intramural gym, 513 reporters’ work stations and phone lines wait, and 50 flat-screen televisions are on the way for the reporters to view the actual debate. Only the broadcast networks and a pool photographer will be allowed in the debate hall.
Several city streets will be closed to traffic. But it’s hard to find anyone complaining.
“I think it’ll be fun,” said Kelly Hignite who works at The Maple Tree Gallery downtown. “I’ll have to leave for work a little earlier, but I’m still excited.”
Next door at Karamel Kreations Gourmet Caramel and Gifts, owner Beth King is selling tins of “GOP Cookies” with an elephant on the container and “Democrat Snacks” with a donkey. She’s selling cookie cutters in the shapes of an elephant and donkey and her display window is decked out in bunting, flags and debate-related merchandise which soon will include red, white and blue striped candy apples.
Across the street from her shop, several large, vertical windows on another building are alternately painted with elephants, donkeys and a “Go Vote” sign. City workers are painting curbs and businesses are sprucing up or planting flowers. Some buildings have bunting hanging from windows.
At the bottom of the hill on Main Street sits Melton’s Great American Deli, which will exclusively provide food for the outdoor festival that will take place on campus on the day of the debate.
The restaurant and catering business will sell hot dogs, popcorn, and cotton candy, enough for 5,000 to 8,000 guests expected to attend the day-long festival, which will feature musical performances capped that night with one by the Marshall Tucker Band.
Idella Nash, mother of owner Gina Melton, said Melton’s was selected for the job “because they felt we did such a good job in 2000.”
She said family and friends, some from out of town, have volunteered to help that day.
Nathan Scherman, Ron and Gina Melton’s son-in-law, said security is so tight the food must be on site the night before as well as refrigeration and any other equipment. Those who work at the food tent submitted to background checks and they won’t be allowed to leave and re-enter once they’re on site. Melton’s must prepare lot of food in advance.
“If it rains, I’m afraid we’ll be eating a whole lot of hot dogs,” Scherman said.
But like everyone else in town, Scherman and Nash don’t seem to mind.
“Everybody is excited about it,” Nash said. “We’re really looking forward to it. We’re just hoping the weather will cooperate that day.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/
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