In 2000, the university had nine months to prepare for the presidential debate between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, which was moderated by Jim Lehrer, executive editor and anchor of PBS’ “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.”
George W. Bush vs. Al Gore
The format of the Oct. 17, 2000, debate was a “town-hall meeting” in the university’s Field House, where the candidates sat on stools facing an audience of about 140 St. Louis-area voters. These town hall participants — undecided voters selected by the Gallup organization — asked the candidates questions.
The debate was almost delayed due to the unexpected passing of Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, his son Randy and a top adviser, Chris Sifford in a plane crash the night before. Janet Brown, executive director of the Commision on Presidential Debates, saw the debate’s emphasis on public policy and public service as an opportunity to honor Governor Carnahan.
The 2000 presidential debate at Washington University gave hundreds a chance to see the candidates in action.
“This was the closest I’ve ever been to the political process. The cameras, celebrities and Secret Service agents made for a very exciting time. I was proud to be part of Washington University as it was put in the national spotlight,” said University College student Ryan Hillenbrand.
Some 900 people — media, dignitaries, invited guests and more than 150 Washington University students — viewed the debate from the Field House’s upper bleacher seats. Millions more worldwide watched the televised 2000 debate, in which Bush and Gore discussed for 90 minutes foreign and domestic policy issues.
SNL lampooned the debate in a skit where Vice President Al Gore (Darrell Hammond) and Governor George W. Bush (Will Ferrell) answer questions from undecided voters until partisans like former President Bush (Dana Carvey) sneak in questions. [Season 26, 2000]