Shock, outrage follow after VSU debate scrapped

George Copeland Jr. | 5/23/2024, 6 p.m.
A historic presidential debate months in the making at Virginia State University may not be happening. News of its probable …
Multipurpose building at Virginia State University

A historic presidential debate months in the making at Virginia State University may not be happening. News of its probable cancellation prompted surprise and disappointment from the university and condemnation from current and former political leaders across the state.

Last week, representatives for President Biden told the Commission on Presidential Debates he wouldn’t attend three university forums scheduled for the fall, including the VSU debate on Oct. 1. The campaign cited the Commission’s failure to keep debate audiences under control and to keep candidates from ignoring or violating debate rules as part of the reasons for their decision to not participate.

Soon after, President Biden and former President Donald Trump agreed to two live debates without crowds hosted by news organizations. A CNN debate is now scheduled for Thursday, June 27, followed by a debate on Tuesday, Sept. 10, on ABC.

A statement from VSU expressed the university’s disappointment in the likely cancellation and holds out hope that the situation can be resolved.

“A presidential debate at VSU is a huge win, not only for our students and campus community but for the greater community in general,” VSU officials said. “As the first Historically Black College or University ever selected to host a General Election U.S. Presidential Debate, VSU recognizes the event’s significance and welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the democratic process.”

“We will continue to work closely with the Commission on Presidential Debates and other stakeholders as we assess this situation. VSU will continue to provide updates and further details as they become available.”

When asked about any further actions that have been taken in response to the cancellation, VSU Assistant Vice President for Communications Gwen Williams Dandridge pointed to the statement and said no other debate commitments besides the one to the CPD, who they continue to work with, have been made so far.

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder lambasted the decision on his blog last Thursday. He criticized President Biden for the choice, noting the costs VSU has incurred to prepare a venue and the potential harm it could do to President Biden’s prospects in the election in November.

“Virginia will play a vital role in this year’s presidential election and it is extremely foolhardy for any candidate to take any votes for granted,” Gov. Wilder wrote. “I would say to President Biden, if you choose Virginia State University, Donald Trump CANNOT object. The ball is in your court Mr. President, and the game is on.

Gov. Glenn A. Youngkin, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares also advocate for the VSU debate, noting the historic nature of the college’s selection as a venue.

So far, the Biden administration has not responded to the calls to hold the debate at VSU.