How it all began

Candidate Ross Perot, Gov. Bill Clinton and Pres. George H.W. Bush debate on the campus of Washington University Oct. 11, 1992. (Photo: Washington University Archives)

(From left:) Candidate Ross Perot, Gov. Bill Clinton and Pres. George H.W. Bush debate on the campus of Washington University Oct. 11, 1992. (Photo: Washington University Archives)

An excerpt from Washington magazine:

On Oct. 2, 1992, President George H.W. Bush’s and Gov. Bill ­Clinton’s campaigns finally reached an agreement about the debate schedule. But the first debate would be Oct. 11, and there was no venue. Janet Brown, ­executive director of the Commission on ­Presidential Debates (CPD), called then–Missouri Sen. Jack Danforth. (She had once been his press secretary.)

“I was told … that if we could raise half a million dollars in a couple of hours, we could get the first debate in St. Louis,” Danforth later told the Chicago Tribune. “It was Friday afternoon, and I knew that I was on a very tight time schedule.” He called August A. Busch III, chairman and president of ­Anheuser-Busch, and within half an hour had secured the half million dollars. He also called his brother, William H. Danforth, then chancellor of WashU, and told him that the CPD would be looking for a site in St. Louis.

The Field House was packed on Oct. 11, 1992, thanks to a tremendous effort by the entire Washington University Community,

The Field House was packed on Oct. 11, 1992, thanks to a tremendous effort by the entire Washington University Community. (Photo: Washington University Archives)

The commission visited Oct. 4 and told Washington ­University that afternoon that it would host the debate in seven days. Through a coordinated and herculean effort, the university transformed its Athletic Complex into a TV studio and accommodated the needs of every major TV studio and thousands of journalists, aides, campaign staffers and volunteers.

It went so well that when the CPD picks debate sites, Washington University is usually on the short list. We were also selected as a debate site in 1996 (canceled at the last minute), 2000, 2004, 2008 (vice presidential debate) and now again in 2016.

“This campus is the gold standard for debates,” Janet Brown said back in 2004. And Washington University just keeps raising the bar.

Read more debate history and trivia in Washington magazine.