Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2008 | 2 a.m.
At A Glance: Tonight's Debate
Tonight’s Democratic debate begins at 6 at the Cashman Center Theatre, 850 North Las Vegas Blvd. The two-hour event will air live on MSNBC and will be rebroadcast with a Spanish-language translation on Telemundo at midnight. Both networks are owned by NBC.
The moderator is “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams. Joining him will be Tim Russert, host of NBC’s Sunday morning talk show “Meet the Press.” The format includes questions submitted by viewers.
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The last time the Democratic presidential candidates debated in Las Vegas at a CNN-televised event at UNLV in November some remarks onstage were nearly lost in the hoots and hollers from an audience that seemed to favor New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
If tonight’s debate audience at the Cashman Center seems to be supporting one candidate, it will have been the luck of the draw. Most of the 1,800 tickets were distributed by lottery among more than 2,700 people who sought them. Other tickets will be awarded to the debate’s co-sponsors and 34 tickets will go to each of the campaigns, compared with 23 tickets at the last debate. (With fewer candidates onstage this time, there are more seats for their supporters.)
“I don’t know if there was an unfair proportion (of Clinton supporters) or if some people were just louder,” state Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said of the November debate. “Certainly we’ve done everything in our power to distribute the tickets fairly” for tonight’s event.
UNLV history professor Greg Brown, who attended the November debate, said he wasn’t pleased by what he saw and heard Sen. Barack Obama being booed and catcalled as he tried to talk about Social Security and former Sen. John Edwards being similarly jeered when he raised a question about the Iraq war. The noise was coming from the sections filled with Clinton’s supporters and the block of seats set aside for the state Democratic Party, Brown said.
“I was embarrassed by the behavior it really reflected poorly on the university,” said Brown, an Edwards campaign volunteer who has served as a temporary precinct captain for the state party. “People should act like adults and not interrupt the candidates when they are speaking. These are important issues, and people should go and listen. This is not a pep rally.”
No matter how balanced the Cashman Center audience may be tonight, the campaigns will be hustling hard to win the all-important visibility war outside the debate a show of strength that might suggest how the campaigns’ organizational skills will play out during the Saturday caucuses.
“This is about good old-fashioned organizing,” said Adam Bozzi, spokesman for Edwards’ Nevada campaign.
“We are expecting a good showing and high visibility,” Bozzi said. “Our organizers are working with the precinct captains, and we’ll make (transportation) arrangements for anyone who needs help.”
As for whether Clinton supporters were out in greater force (or voice) last time, Bozzi said Edwards’ team is just as devoted.
But perhaps more polite?
Hilarie Grey, Clinton’s Nevada communications director, said if there were boos or catcalls at the past debate, “it’s certainly not anything that was orchestrated.” “But people are passionate,” she added, “about the issues they care about.”
And tonight the Clinton campaign “is pulling out all the stops,” Grey said. With the campaign headquarters located directly across the street from UNLV, it was easy to arrange for a bagpiper to lead a procession from the office to Cox Pavilion. Though marching to the Cashman Center, on Las Vegas Boulevard north of downtown, isn’t in the cards, the campaign is still planning on a dramatic entrance of sorts with potential “special guests” leading the way.
So, who will it be? Bill? Chelsea?
Knowing the promise of a surprise is one way to pique the media’s interest, Grey kept mum on the details.
“Wait and see.”