Candidates come to visit

Presidential hopefuls speak at Liberty Convocation to boost campaigns

Convocation at Liberty University has become a popular stop for presidential candidates on their campaign trails.

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Since Sen. Ted Cruz came to Liberty in spring 2015 to announce his candidacy, candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, Dr. Ben Carson and Donald J. Trump have also taken the stage.

According to Daniel Bolton, director of Spiritual Programs, the presidential candidates are eager to visit the school and be given the platform only Liberty can offer.

“We offer them something nowhere else does, which is the chance to speak in front of 13,000 college students,” Bolton said. “There is nowhere in the world that they can speak to so many college students.”

Bolton explained that due to the proximity of major cities surrounding the Lynchburg area, candidates are able to fly in the morning of Convocation and still be able to hold a rally in cities, such as Charlotte, North Carolina or Richmond, Virginia.

Presidential candidates have the chance to influence 13,000 students on campus and approximately 8,000 students who watch it online. They are given an opportunity to speak about their Christian faith in an open and accepting platform, where they are least likely to hear shouts and jeers.

Bolton said anytime a candidate visits, Liberty is shown in a positive light. Social media provides a flattering outlet for the visitors to thank the school publicly.

After his visit to Convocation, Trump sent a tweet to his 5.8 millions followers: “I loved being at Liberty University today! Record setting crowd, unbelievable people! Thank you Jerry and Becki!”
Sanders also sent a tweet to his 1.2 million followers: “Thank you very much, Liberty University, for inviting me to be with you today #LibertyConvo.”

Bolton said the process of getting in touch with the candidates’ campaigns is simple. He explained he will either get in touch with the campaign himself or rely on President Jerry Falwell’s personal relationship with the person to play a role in the invitation.

Liberty does not show favoritism when it comes to selecting guests for Convocation. Curious minds wondered why Sanders, a member of the Democratic Party, was asked to speak to the students Sept. 14.
“No matter what decision you make, you are going to have people who disagree,” Bolton said. “We never shut down candidates.”

The presidential candidates who visited have walked away with a feeling of gratitude toward the school and Falwell, according to Bolton.

Liberty faced a new aspect of bringing in such high profile speakers — United States Secret Service. When Carson visited the school Nov. 11 and Trump Jan. 18, students were required to go through metal detectors and security screening.

“We have developed a relationship with the Secret Service,” Bolton said. “They are the nicest guys around and are very professional.”

When asked of the chances of Hillary Clinton visiting Liberty, Bolton said that just as they have with all of the candidates, they have reached out to her campaign.

“There is always a chance,” Bolton said. “No one has given a ‘no.’”

No matter the political position, Liberty students are asked to be polite and respectful for each of the candidates. CNN reported Sanders, whose views differ from many Liberty students, was generally received courteously.

“(Sanders) received a courteous welcome and helped all parties demonstrate their willingness to respect the other side,” MSNBC reported after his visit.

Even though many students do not agree with some of the presidential hopefuls, freshman Joshua Smith has seen the benefit of being informed.

“Our nation is a diverse nation with many different worldviews,” Smith said. “When we hear different perspectives, we hear worldviews that we may not have ever heard before. Although we may not always agree with them, we need to hear them so we can understand where they’re coming from and better lead them to Christ.”

Coleman is a news reporter.

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