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Tiny Farmville, Virginia will briefly become the center of the political world Tuesday night as Longwood University hosts the only vice presidential debate of the year between Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine.
While the three presidential debates are in or near major cities (New York, St. Louis, and Las Vegas), the Commission on Presidential Debates chose to place the VP debate on a campus three-and-half hours from Washington, D.C., in a town so small that most reporters are staying in hotels more than an hour away in Richmond.
It’s a been major boost for Farmville and Longwood, a public liberal arts school with only about 5,000 students, which has been busy sprucing up its campus and plastering Washington with advertisements touting the debate since it was chosen last year. The school has also worked the debate into the curriculum of more than 30 courses, included in unexpected disciplines like art and economics.
“Longwood’s selection for the 2016 U.S. vice presidential debate is a genuine game-changer for Farmville and the heart of Virginia,” said Farmville Mayor David Whitus.
About 75 schools bid to host a debate every election year, and Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley IV got the idea to apply for one after student raised the idea in a class he teaches on the American presidency. Reveley’s father is the president of William & Mary, which has hosted a debates in the past, and several of Longwood staff members had connections to members of the debate commission.
“I think they really responded to our mission, which is to form citizen leaders. And they responded to our history,” said Longwood spokesperson Matthew McWilliams. “The Civil War functionally ended on one end of campus, and the civil rights movement started on the other end of campus.”
Both the Union and Confederate armies marched past the north side of campus on their way to Appomattox Courthouse, where they ended the war. And on the South side of campus sat a high school where a student protest contributed to the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the Brown V. Board of Education case.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off for the second time Sunday at Washington University in St. Louis, which hosted the vice presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden in 2008. In 2012, the vice presidential debate took place on an even smaller campus — Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, which has just over 1,000 students.