CNN chose to host the upcoming Democratic debate at Otterbein University for the university's suburban Columbus location and willingness to work with the network.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and CNN wanted to host the debate at a suburban location in Ohio. Ohio is a swing state, which means it could feasibly be won by either the Democratic or Republican presidential candidate. Westerville is one of many Columbus suburbs that moved left in 2018.
Otterbein did not submit its name to be considered for the debate location. CNN researched Otterbein and selected the university because it practices democracy on campus and has a community that would be welcoming of the debate.
University President John Comerford was eager to host the debate at Otterbein and invited CNN to come to campus for three site visits. This process started in late July, and since then both parties have acknowledged the importance of Otterbein student involvement in the debate proceedings.
Matthew D’Oyly, Otterbein’s director of events and conferences, said, “CNN wanted to host the debate on a college campus to make sure that students were getting access to see the behind-the-scenes of a major media outlet doing a large production like this.”
In an email sent to everyone on campus, Comerford said, “It will be a once-in-a-lifetime educational experience for many of you who will work with CNN, see national media organizations in action, and attend the Debate or our own Watch Party.”
Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has an office at Otterbein and works closely with CNN, may also have played a part in Otterbein’s selection because he often promotes the university in interviews on the network.
D’Oyly said, “People at CNN know the Otterbein name because Kasich always mentions Otterbein.”
One main challenge of hosting the debate is finding space on campus for each of the 12 campaign's greenrooms and workspaces. The health and sports sciences building will be utilized by these campaigns. All classrooms will also be available for use because the debate is during fall break, when classes are not in session.
When asked about concerns regarding the size of Otterbein, D’Oyly said, “Westerville is actually a pretty large town in the sense that they can hold large events. Campus will be very busy, but there is no doubt that we have the capacity to pull this off.”
The debate, which takes place on Oct. 15, will air on CNN live at 8 p.m. EST from the Rike Center.