ONLINE EXCLUSIVE BY JOHN WINGERT
On Friday, CNN came to campus soliciting questions from Drake University students for CNN’s upcoming debates.
Throughout the afternoon, the red, white, and blue airstream trailer hauled by a CNN pick-up truck asked for input from students and community members about issues that mattered to them. A few selected questions would be used in CNN debates. The next CNN debate is scheduled for October 13th in Las Vegas as a debate among Democratic candidates. CNN is also hosting a Republican debate on December 15th.
The camper, which is co-sponsored with Facebook, opened up on one side along the Olmsted parking lot to reveal a sectional couch along one wall, wallpaper of a nondescript political rally, a bench along the front, and a television broadcasting CNN around the clock.
Moderating the station and talking to students was Topher Gauk-Roger, a CNN Entertainment producer who typically works covering red carpet events and press junkets for films.
According to him, most students were “pretty excited to have a say” or even “taken by surprise.” If students wanted to ask a question, they were ushered around a bench into a small, curtained booth to record a fifteen second question for prospective nominees. From there, submitters could type in their e-mail address and have the link to the video on CNN’s Facebook page sent to them in a few minutes.
Haley Barbour, a junior, appreciated that questions in upcoming debates could be coming from Drake students. The CNN campaign camper, according to her, was a “really good opportunity for students to get involved” and “actually talk about issues we care about.”
These questions ran the gamut of potential topics. Thalia Anguiano, a junior at Drake, “sat in Upper Olmsted for like 45 minutes” before coming down with a shortlist of her favorite questions. Anguiano said that she was very excited for the upcoming debate this next week, because, “we haven’t heard so much from the Democratic side yet.”
When she entered the booth and walked up the podium, Anguiano provided two of her main questions, which she hopes candidates will answer. The first was about undocumented students achieving success in higher education in which Anguiano referenced her opportunity to ask the Vice President Joe Biden the same question when he came to Drake last winter, despite a nonresponsive reply. The second was about lowering the costs of higher education.
Other students brought up myriad other concerns. Some commented on agriculture, the national debt, national security, climate change, Obamacare, and Social Security. Taylor Sellers and Alliyah Greaver both brought up the concern of mounting partisanship in America and wondered how candidates would work to find compromise.
Two major themes emerged in the submissions, which are viewable online. The first was college affordability which numerous students approached from many differing viewpoints.
However, a second recurring theme in the questions asked to CNN was the availability of early childhood education. All of the students supporting this idea were wearing Save the Children Action Network shirts or buttons.
Taylor Morris, a student ambassador for Save the Children Action Network, said that they were not trying to ambush the camper. Instead, she said, “I went with one other person, and I think he alerted others to it, but we did not all go together.”
Instead, the point of the members was merely to convey their ideas about early childhood education, something Morris says is “really important for children’s development . . . but I know that not all parents have the resources to make preschool a reality for their children.
Before even two o’clock in the afternoon, Topher Gauk-Roger said that CNN had received about 25 question submissions from all of these students with all of their varying interests. Throughout the rest of their stops in places like St. Louis, Missouri; Denver, Colorado; and Nogales, Arizona the CNN Campaign Camper has been trying to get people to talk about “the most talked-about issues on Facebook and chose cities that were emblematic of those issues,” according to an article from Wired magazine.
Although immigration is expected to be the main topic to come from Arizona, and racial inequality is expected to be the big take-away from St. Louis, until the upcoming debates, no one will know what concerns CNN might raise from Des Moines.