Posted: 10:25 am Wednesday, October 19th, 2016
By Jamie Dupree
From Las Vegas, Nevada –
After stops in New York, Virginia, and Missouri, the Presidential Debate carnival has arrived here in the unique American destination of Las Vegas, as the University of Nevada at Las Vegas plays host to the final showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Wednesday night, with Trump trying to seize back some momentum in the race for the White House.
Here’s a look behind the scenes at how it’s all coming together:
1. Clinton, Trump to meet in the shadow of the The Vegas Strip. The last time we were here for a debate, Donald Trump was still in the midst of his primary battle for the GOP nomination, and Hillary Clinton was struggling to put away Bernie Sanders. Those debates were actually held on the Strip, this time, we’re just a short ride away. Once again, there is a large news media presence for this debate, but because this city deals with so many tourists and so many conventions, the Trump-Clinton “Fight Night” still isn’t the biggest draw in this town. The photo below is what the news media filing center looks like – tonight, it will be jammed with reporters and campaign aides.
2. The Runnin’ Rebels welcome you to UNLV. If you have ever flown into Las Vegas, you have seen the Thomas and Mack Center on the UNLV campus when you drive in from the airport – it’s on the right side of the road just before you make the hard left toward the Strip near the Hard Rock casino.
For sports fans, this is the home that Tark the Shark built – Jerry Tarkanian, the long time coach of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels basketball team, and there is a monument out front to him. Tarkanian’s name is also involved in politics here in Nevada, as his son Danny is running for Congress in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, trying to hold on to the seat of Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), who is running for the U.S. Senate seat of the retiring Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV).
3. The TV networks are primed and ready. As with every other Presidential debate, there is a gigantic platform out front for TV reporters from all over the world, who will be able to do dozens of live reports simultaneously from the same camera platform, right in front of the debate hall at UNLV.
Inside, there are camera positions for the major networks as well, ringing the news media filing center, and right by the area cordoned off for post-debate spin.
I do have to sound one note of caution – while just about everything about Las Vegas is “big,” this Spin Room area seems very small. My seat is actually in the front row of the media center, right next to the Spin Alley, and I’m a bit worried it’s going to be a gigantic traffic jam tonight that is difficult for reporters – and the campaigns – to navigate. Time will tell.
4. Yes, my company’s name is everywhere. I work for Cox Media Group, and the Cox name is plastered all over the place here in Vegas, both as a cable TV company and as a provider of internet services for various conventions, and in this case – the news media – all housed here in the aptly-named Cox Pavilion at UNLV. For those who wonder about the costs of covering one of these events – my seat in the filing center was $114. My 10 MB internet line was $550, which happens to be both the slowest and the most expensive connection I’ve had at any debate. (I’m still hoping that my company affiliation might get me a bigger internet pipe, but I’m not holding my breath.)
5. Those hard-working radio reporters. As I was searching for the right place to pick up my debate credentials on Tuesday at the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center, my long time friend and colleague Gerry Bodlander of AP Radio swooped in to help out. Gerry and I have done this rodeo many times before, and we always err on the side of going to debates early to get all of our technical issues worked out before the actual debate day. Before dropping in to help me, Gerry got up before dawn (still on Eastern Time) on Tuesday morning, so he could drive over two hours into Utah. Why? Well, he wanted to do a story about Presidential candidate Evan McMullin, and wanted to be able to say he was in Utah for the story. Gerry also zipped down to Phoenix to do a story on the Senate race there during this trip. I think both of us would be thrilled to do nothing for a month but drive all over the country and cover elections of all sorts.
6. I’m still laughing over my hotel room number. I am happy to admit that I love to gamble, so it’s certainly nice to be staying at a hotel that has a casino downstairs. Yes, you know the chance of taking home a mountain of cash is pretty remote, but there is always hope the first time you sit down, and pull some crisp bills out of your wallet. So, think of the excitement when the woman behind the registration desk handed me my hotel room key, and I saw my room number:
Let’s see what happens tonight.