The first presidential debate of the general election is making a detour to Cleveland after coronavirus concerns prompted the University of Notre Dame to pull out of the event.
Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic will host a debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on September 29.
Notre Dame withdrew from the debate Monday, citing the preparations that would be needed to thwart the spread of COVID-19. The precautions would have dimmed the debate’s educational value to students, according to university president Rev. John Jenkins.
“The inevitable reduction in student attendance in the debate hall, volunteer opportunities and ancillary educational events undermined the primary benefit of hosting – to provide our students with a meaningful opportunity to engage in the American political process,” Jenkins said in a letter quoted by a university news release.
Instead, Biden and Trump will face off in the Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion, a 477,000-square-foot atrium inside the Health Education Campus, a Clinic and Case Western building on East 93rd Street and Euclid Avenue.
“This pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of health care and scientific discovery in unprecedented ways,” CWRU President Barbara Snyder and Clinic CEO Tom Mihaljevic said in a news release. “To have the presidential candidates discuss these issues in our innovative learning space represents a tremendous opportunity for both institutions – and our entire region.”
Whether the two major-party candidates face a live audience is yet to be seen. According to the Cleveland Clinic, that will depend on the status of the pandemic two months from now. The clinic was already advising the Commission on Presidential Debates on how to conduct all of the fall events as it became clear the election season and the pandemic would collide.
Cleveland has offered a stage for several major debates in the last two decades. In addition to being the host city for the 2016 Republican National Convention, GOP presidential primary candidates debated in Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena that year.
Democratic primary hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton debated at Cleveland State University in 2008. And CWRU hosted the 2004 vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards.