Centre hosts Vice Presidential Web Poll
DANVILLE, KY -- Centre College, host of this year's only national vice presidential debate, has launched the 2000 Vice Presidential Web Poll (www.centre.edu/web/news/presdebate/poll). On-line visitors can register their choice of vice presidential candidates from a list prepared by Clarence Wyatt, Pottinger Associate Professor of History at Centre and an expert on recent American history.
Within the first week of its launch, the site was chosen named "Hot Site of the Week" by PoliticsOnline (week of June 25). In a description of the Centre poll, PoliticsOnline staffer Joshua Strimple noted that Centre hit the hottest topic of the moment in the world of politics: running mates. He also called the poll a good example of the role the Internet can play in encouraging voter participation.
Centre College is one of four sites chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) in Washington, D.C., to host a general election debate in 2000. The vice presidential debate will be held on the Centre campus Thursday, Oct. 5.
Visitors to the 2000 Vice Presidential Web Poll can select an individual from lists of Democratic and Republican potential vice presidential candidates. After voting, the selection is tabulated. Participants can immediately view a summary of the votes, broken down by gender, race and age.
Wyatt's lists may raise a few eyebrows, but the Centre professor says he set out to create a ballot that was short, manageable and provocative. "The fun, at this point, is the speculation. Later, the fun is the surprise," says Wyatt. "Early in the primary season in 1992, Bill Clinton wasn't exactly high on everyone's list. He was a guess at that point, who later emerged as the winner. Anyone who dares make a list of candidates can choose either to make it incredibly long or to keep it simple by offering a snapshot of the moment. I favor the snapshot approach."
Wyatt chose a collection of seven Democrats including U.S. senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Dianne Feinstein of California, along with Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson. His slightly longer list of nine Republicans covers Gen. Colin Powell and Elizabeth Dole, along with former presidential contender John McCain. On a note of whimsy, he offers the Florida governor Jeb Bush for the possibility of the country's first 'sibling ticket.'
No matter which candidates emerge as the vice presidential nominees, Wyatt says the vice presidential debate at Centre will be important. Past VP debates have been a proving ground for contenders as their character, integrity and trustworthiness have been scrutinized publicly.
Wyatt says the presidential nominees should follow one cardinal rule in choosing their running mates: Do yourself no harm. "The presidential nominees face enormous pressure to figure out how potential running mates might hurt or help them over the course of a campaign," Wyatt says. "That challenge -- and the unknowns -- always fascinate the public."
From Wyatt's perspective, there is yet another factor that makes the selection of vice presidential candidates intriguing. "The nominating convention is the moment when the presidential candidate becomes official -- and the selection of a running mate represents the candidate's first major decision. The selection process offers real insight into the person's willingness to take risks and the kinds of values he or she embraces."
Wyatt points to John Kennedy as an example. "Although Kennedy secured the nomination for the presidency, he had a reputation as a political lightweight and a New England liberal. He balanced his ticket -- and at the same time demonstrated both courage and political savvy -- by choosing Lyndon Johnson, a southerner who had been the Senate majority leader."
There have been numerous other examples of ticket-balancing running mates, according to Wyatt, but Bill Clinton's selection of Al Gore broke the rule. "Clinton chose someone who was almost the same age, from the same part of the country, and of the same political stripe. He won anyway, and that makes this year's race all the more interesting."
Wyatt is an expert on recent American history and the author of an acclaimed book about press coverage of the Vietnam War, Paper Soldiers (University of Chicago Press, 1995). He is a native of Kentucky and has taught at Centre since 1990.
The Centre on-line poll aims to promote voter participation and interaction in the upcoming election. The college also hopes to heighten interest in the upcoming VP debate, which Wyatt says will be an important factor in the election process. "The presidential candidates hold few surprises at this point," Wyatt says, "so the image and perceived abilities of their running mates take on added level of importance."
Centre College was founded in 1819 and currently is cited by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 50 liberal arts colleges in the United States. The Norton Center for the Arts, where the VP debate will take place, is among the state's best venues in the performing arts, with a concert hall that seats 1,500 and an intimate theater with seating for 300.
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Public information coordinator: Patsi Barnes Trollinger