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November 20, 2019

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On debate eve, media spotlight keeps UNLV campus abuzz

Pre-debate hoopla at UNLV

Ricardo Torres-Cortez

On-lookers watch a live segment of CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” on the UNLV campus, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, a day before the third and final presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Pre-debate hoopla at UNLV

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During a commercial break, Anderson Cooper jotted notes while the crowd at UNLV coordinated a shout: one, two, three …“We love you!”

It took a moment for the CNN personality to respond, but when he did with a wave, the group erupted in hoots.

The third U.S. presidential debate has centered the country’s attention on UNLV, where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Wednesday will face off for the last time before Americans cast their vote next month.

And where the candidates go, the national media follow. CNN and MSNBC have planted makeshift studios in the middle of campus.

A modest crowd of mostly students gathered Tuesday night during a live broadcast of “Anderson Cooper 360" on a grassy field near the Thomas T. Beam Engineering Complex.

This week has been “crazy exciting,” said Amanda Haikal, a 20-year-old UNLV junior, who’s been volunteering with the school for the debate preparation. “We’re really proud to have UNLV getting the media attention it deserves.”

She noted that this election is important to her “as a college student, as a minority, as a female.”

The university prepared well and has done a commendable job at promoting the debate as well as itself, Humza Asif said. The 19-year-old biology major said the debate brings him “pride and honor to be a UNLV student.”

The run-up to the debate has been “very chaotic,” said Lizbeth Jimenez, a 30-year-old masters student of public administration. However, she says she’s impressed with the job the campus has done to transform into a national platform that is drawing greater prominence.

Cooper, his panelists and guests sat facing away from the crowd, which made it less personable but also allowed the crowd's enthusiasm and their signs to appear on national TV. A religious group waved several large neon banners; a Clinton supporter flashed her Hillary sign.

The vitriol that has surrounded the campaign was not apparent at UNLV Tuesday. Despite minor jeers directed at a screen broadcasting replay clips of the past two debates, the atmosphere was jovial.

After an exchange with the studio panel, Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway walked through campus and at one point graciously answered questions about online polls from a man in a UNLV hat recording her on a small camera. She waited for the man's children to take photos with them.

This will be the first presidential election some of the students will be able to participate in. One of those students is sophomore Khadija Bhatti, 19.

From what she's heard, this is a "very strange election cycle" compared to others. "Hopefully whatever happens is for the best," she said about Nov. 9.

Ashna Ayub, 19, said hosting the debate is a valuable opportunity to show that young Las Vegans care about the political process. "Regardless of how you feel about this election, I think it's still important to keep up with what each candidate is proposing or what they're trying to get across to the audience."

At the show’s 7 p.m. end, most of the students began to trickle out of campus. A few took turns taking photos with CNN’s props that included a lighted CNN logo and a trailer wrapped with a graphic of Clinton and Trump faces. About half a dozen people stuck around for the next show.

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