Neither John McCain nor Barack Obama were in Jacksonville Monday evening, but the University of North Florida hosted a presidential debate involving both – sort of.
Council member Kevin Hyde and Terrell Hogan attorney Chris Hand took the place of both candidates on numerous hot topic issues as part of UNF’s “Election 2008: McCain vs. Obama” moderated by UNF President John Delaney before a crowd of 200 at the campus’ Robinson Theater.
Hyde argued for McCain while Hand took the stance of Obama during the event, with Delaney joking that “late hits and slander are all legal.”
The slanderous back-and-forth, raised voices and angered tones present in the actual presidential debates and campaigns for both presidential candidates never appeared, with both men saying nothing but positives about the experience and each other.
“I really had fun,” said Hyde, who also serves as an attorney for Foley & Lardner. “It was kind of akin to being in the courtroom … Chris (Hand) did a great job, too, and I am kind of glad I have never had to battle him in the courtroom.”
Hand had similar words of praise and encouragement for Hyde.
“It was a great debate and exchange of ideas up there,” said Hand. “Kevin (Hyde) did a fantastic job up there, especially for being asked last minute, and I thought the whole thing was a very positive one.”
Hyde agreed to do the debate late after General Counsel Rick Mullaney had to cancel late last week. (“The internet is a wonderful thing,” said Hyde, on how he prepared so quickly.)
Debate format included an initial 30 minute period of pre-determined questions followed by an additional 30 minutes of crowd generated questions, though Delaney was able to change direction as he saw fit. Each representative was given two minutes to address their candidate’s stance on an issue, which was followed by a series of one minute rebuttals.
Pre-generated topics focused on the current economic crisis, who is to blame and how the federal government should address the situation; the candidate’s stance on Amendment 2 of the Florida Constitution regarding gay marriages; energy independence and what it means to each candidate; Iraq and a potential timeline for troop withdrawal; and the mounting costs problem facing students trying to go to college.
Audience generated debate topics were narrower – defending Sarah Palin’s qualifications, the approval-disapproval of a recent GI Bill for veterans support, how Obama will fund planned new programs – in scope to each candidate, but both parties had equal opportunity to answer.
The debate was part of the campus’ role in the American Democracy Project, a multi-campus effort to encourage students to become more civically informed and involved. UNF is one of 229 schools involved in the project.
The event was put together by Dr. Matthew Corrigan, UNF political science chair, who thought the debate went smoothly and accomplished its goal.
“We wanted to pique the interest of the students on the issues and I think we did just that,” said Corrigan. “It was a great turnout and I think everyone had fun … during election years students do tend to become involved more, but more people showed up than I expected.”
In their closing points to the crowd, both Hyde and Hand said the best thing about deciding a president in the Nov. 4 general election was that it would be up to the people to decide which ideology and method of change the winner would bring to the country over the next four years.
But as for the winner of Monday’s debate?
“No, no,” said a laughing Delaney. “They both did great up there but if it was a points system it’d be too close to say.”