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Lafayette College gets ready to roll out red, white and blue carpet for U.S. vice presidential showcase

Lafayette College is seeking suggestions and volunteers as it prepares for days-long festivities ahead of the scheduled Sept. 25 vice presidential debate.

EASTON, Pa. — Seven months out from Lafayette College's big moment in national politics, school officials are gearing up for a community-wide event this fall when it hosts the U.S. vice presidential debate.

Logistics for the actual debate will mostly be managed by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), the nonprofit group that has organized the debates for nearly 40 years.

And the Secret Service will take lead on security, setting strict limits on who's allowed in and out of the area around the Kirby Sports Center on College Hill.

But college officials intend for the for the scheduled Wednesday, Sept. 25, debate to be more than a war of words between two politicians. Instead, Lafayette will host a days-long celebration of democracy.

College officials want input and volunteers from its campus community, including students, staff, alumni and residents across the region, said Geoff Labe, assistant vice president of business services and chair of the college's debate planning committee.

"We really want Easton in particular and the greater Lehigh Valley to be part of the festivities around this," Labe said.

"In today's political world, the VP debate might be more impactful than the presidential debate."
Geoff Labe, Lafayette College Debate Planning Committee

Historically, the vice presidential debate has played second fiddle to the presidential debates.

But if the election becomes the expected rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, Labe was optimistic more eyes will be on Lafayette College this fall. Both candidates are unpopular with the American public, and either would be the oldest president ever upon completion of a second term. More Americans may place greater emphasis on who's a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.

"In today's political world, the VP debate might be more impactful than the presidential debate," Labe said.

The early stages

But details of the debate itself are still up in the air. Vice President Kamala Harris seems likely to remain on the Democratic ticket; the party will formalize their candidates at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.

On the Republican side, it's unclear who Trump would select as a running mate. He's publicly discussed as contenders Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

Similarly, the college is still hammering out the details for the on-campus events leading up to the debate. Lafayette officials have created a website, debate.lafayette.edu, to share updates and information as it becomes known.

"Right now, we are really into the specifics of planning out the debate hall and the other events around campus," Labe said.

With the limited seating available at the debate, Labe said there will be at least two viewing parties for those who won't be inside Kirby — a large video board set up in the campus quad and another viewing at the Arts Plaza at the base of College Hill. The plaza has also been tabbed as the free speech area, a designated spot for protesters.

The days leading up to the debate will also feature academic talks and likely hold a mock debate, Labe said. The specifics are still in the works — the speakers and issues aren't yet finalized. Likewise, planners are still exploring if the debate will be limited to students or if off-campus groups will be invited to participate, Labe said.

On campus and off

Pulling off the event will require help from the entire community, Labe said. While the exact jobs and roles aren't yet known, the college is searching for volunteers to assist with the festivities and debate, he said. The college will primarily look for help from the students and staff, he said, but assistance from alumni and community members isn't being ruled out, either.

At the same time, the college has acknowledged there will be drawbacks to hosting a high-profile event that will draw journalists and VIPs from across the globe.

Disruptions to daily life will begin in late August, when access to Kirby will be limited as preparations begin. Parking on campus and the surrounding neighborhood will get tighter about a week or so before the debate when access to the Markle Parking Deck and a parking lot on Bushkill Street will be restricted.

Lafayette officials encouraged people seeking the latest updates to follow their debate website or sign up for its monthly Campus and Community newsletter. Anyone looking to volunteer or offer suggestions is encouraged to contact the school at debate@lafayette.edu.