Creating A Conversation

Friday morning, following the conclusion of the Cory Booker town-hall, three Saint Anselm College staff huddled for a discussion. The campaigns of Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman had approached the Saint Anselm College Republicans to sponsor (with the New Hampshire Institute of Politics serving as host) a Lincoln-Douglas style debate (we settled on calling it a conversation), and the time had come to decide where we would assemble an interested audience, the media, and the candidates.

It would be appropriate to mention at this point that by Friday morning, there were hundreds of requests for seats, and members of the foreign press from Germany, Switzerland and Japan had inquired about covering this event.

"What do you think?" asked Neil Levesque, Executive Director of the NHIOP.

We settled on relocating from the NHIOP auditorium to the Dana Center stage, and so started approximately 72 hours of phone calls, emails, meetings and countless spreadsheets and seating diagrams.

In a 12-hour marathon on Saturday, the audience was assembled, email confirmations were sent, and our media list grew to more than 50.

Sunday featured email conversations about finding matching American flags for the backdrop, buying 200 credentials at a local Staples, and figuring out how to accommodate the press list as it surged towards 100.

As we all signed off our iPhones and iPads around midnight on Sunday, we saw a story from the BBC: "Republicans Gingrich and Huntsman to hold epic debate." (No stress to live up to expectations!)

Republican presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman plan to hold a debate styled on the historic 1858 tussles between Abraham Lincoln and Senator Stephen Douglas.

Their campaigns say the debate, to be held on Monday 12 December at St Anselm College in New Hampshire, will provide a detailed exploration of their positions and views for the country

As Monday dawned, Saint Anselm College did what it does best: welcome our guests with the highest of hospitality: from offering a family on an admission visit with a private tour of the hall as the set was under construction, to greeting "Campaign Carl" of Fox News Channel as an old friend who spends so much time on campus he knows us by name too.

The press assembled, the audience filled in, the candidates appeared on stage.

For 90 minutes, two candidates discussed the issues on the same stage where Humanities lectures are offered four days a week, and where in early January, the full candidate field will appear for our ABC News, WMUR debate.

Following a brief press conference, Jon Huntsman walked up to the coffee shop, entering to a round of applause, and ever-so-briefly interrupting students from their dinner, or studying (it is finals week, after all) to say hello, and ask how exams were going. The candidate walked behind the counter to greet the staff (and grab a few french fries).

And then it was over.

Campaign vehicles headed out to the next event, the media filed their video, stories and photos, and the college staff enjoyed an ever-so-brief moment of pause.

No time to rest though, the primary, and our next debate, is less than a month away. Just another day in "America's Classroom"