First televised debate on campus features Virginia’s GOP governor candidates
Eyes across Virginia were on Liberty University Thursday night as Liberty’s Center for Law & Government hosted the Commonwealth of Virginia Debate for Governor, the first televised debate that Liberty has hosted and the first for governor in this election cycle. Virginia’s gubernatorial race is one of the first statewide elections since the recent presidential election.
All candidates vying for the Republican nomination — Ed Gillespie, Corey Stewart, and Frank Wagner — took the stage at the concert hall in Liberty’s new Center for Music and the Worship Arts. The event was broadcast and fully produced by Liberty’s Event Production team. Sinclair Broadcast Group partnered with the center to carry the event on several TV stations in Virginia.
Len Stevens, Liberty’s executive director of External Communications, and WSET-TV news anchor Mark Spain, served as moderators.
Robert Hurt, former U.S. Congressman and executive director of the center, welcomed guests, calling the event “a robust debate of issues of national significance.”
Topics included the economy, revitalizing Virginia’s coalfields, regulating businesses, gun control, Medicaid expansion, expected job losses due to automation, illegal immigration, and improving transportation.
Hurt said he was honored to be a part of Liberty’s first televised debate.
“I don’t think any university in the country could have done a better job, which speaks volumes to the quality of the employees who work here,” he said. “This event was a partnership between Liberty University School of Law and the Helms School of Government, with tremendous support from a number of university departments, including Event Production, the University Events office, Marketing, LUPD, and more. Our partnership with Sinclair Broadcast Group helped enable this to be a statewide event — the first, and possibly only, of this gubernatorial primary.”
Hurt said the event demonstrated what Liberty University aims to do through the new Center for Law & Government.
“We want to educate the public on important issues to inform them to elect good men and women to public office,” he said. “We expect to host more events like this and continue to be a platform for the exchange of ideas.”
“What a wonderful way to introduce the Center for Law & Government to a wider audience,” Stevens added about the debate. “Clearly, our live audience was enthusiastic and appreciative. I hope our TV audience got as much out of it as they did. This is just the beginning for the center. Look for more to come.”
Dozens of student volunteers from the Helms School of Government, Liberty Law, and Liberty’s chapter of the College Republicans helped with the debate.
Second-year law student Kylie Rutland said being part of Liberty’s first televised debate was an amazing experience.
“It shows the world that Liberty can have such an impact,” Rutland said. “We were able to showcase what this university is all about. Students were exposed to candidates who have a high chance of becoming the next governor of Virginia.”
Junior Hannah Robillard, who is studying international relations with the School of Government, said it was rewarding to see students from different areas of the university coming together to assist with the event.
“Liberty was put in a spotlight and given a platform,” Robillard said. “Students were able to be part of a professional debate.”
Robillard said each candidate showcased issues that are important to not only the Commonwealth, but also the local community.
“The candidates did a good job of covering the issues,” she said. “I think any of them are ready to go as governor.”
A special reception was held for guests after the debate, with cakes made by Liberty’s Dining Services to honor the 274th birthday of Thomas Jefferson.
Liberty has become a popular stop for those seeking political office — among them U.S. President Donald Trump, who is this year’s Commencement speaker, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence, and presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Gary Johnson, and Bernie Sanders. Gillespie and Stewart each spoke to students at Liberty earlier this semester.
Photos by Kevin Manguiob and Leah Seavers