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A New Take on Election Debates

debate table
St. Ambrose students Eric Clapp and Cody Koeppen (seated) participated in Iowa 2nd Congressional District debate under the direction of social media instructor Mark Ridolfi on Oct. 20 at the Galvin Fine Arts Center.

November 2012 | by Cody Koeppen

Editor's note: This article originally was published in advance of the Nov. 7 election won by incumbent Democratic Congressman Dave Loebsack.

I'm a very lucky individual.

I say that because it's not often that a college student gets to be on a stage with two congressional candidates. Not only that, but I was also lucky enough to be able to participate in the questioning of the candidates. The entire experience was very unique, and it was one that I thought would be worth sharing with anyone even remotely interested in politics.

I am part of the social media and audience class at St. Ambrose. With guidance from the instructor, Mark Ridolfi of the Quad-City Times, I and the class' two other members have been working on several election-related projects. Our work in assisting with the Iowa 2nd Congressional District debate was arguably the largest of these projects.

The entire process began several months ago, on the first day of class in August. Mr. Ridolfi had us note the date of the debate on the syllabus and explained how we would be participating.

Throughout the course of the semester, we had been researching the candidates in an attempt to prepare. The slideshow that was running behind the candidates before the event was partly our doing as a result of this.

Several times leading up to the event, meetings were held in Galvin to go over the technical aspects of debate prep. Though I was only able to attend one of these meetings, it was enough for me to realize what it takes to pull off an event such as this. The media professionals who do this kind of thing day in and day out make it look easy, but I know that it's anything but.

On the night of the debate, we arrived roughly an hour before the event started. To see everyone doing last minute preparations was quite a sight. There were lots of very professional people doing everything in their power to make sure the night was a success. It was like watching a very intricate machine with well-oiled parts as everything came together at 7:00 p.m.

It's incredible how quickly an hour passes when you're involved in something such as this. The candidates did their best to sway voters and both Eric Clapp and I were able to represent student voices on stage. All in all, the evening was a success.

There's more to it than that, however. After being on stage with these two politicians, I'm able to view the upcoming elections through a slightly different lens. Though the scope of this debate pales in comparison to the presidential debates, I believe there are many similarities beyond the format itself.

My biggest takeaway from this would probably be the nature of the candidates themselves. After being on stage with them, I can tell you that there is nothing magical about Mr. Archer or Mr. Loebsack. I don't mean that negatively, either. What I mean is that both of these men are human beings with families, lives, and personas that exist outside of the public eye.

This is the comparison I'd like to make to the presidential debates. Regardless of who you'll be su

pporting this November, remember that neither Barack Obama or Mitt Romney have a magical aura surrounding them, either. These are ordinary men who just happen to have very extraordinary jobs. They are no different than you or I, really.

Politics can be a very ugly game. It is our duty as voters to do our best to keep things civil. Too often, we use politicians as targets of our hate or, conversely, we expect them to be our messiahs. They are neither. They are just employees of the American people.

Ideological differences can be debated to find solutions. Too often we instead choose to parrot the one-liner insults we hear from our favorite pundits. The former advances our society as a whole. The latter keeps the gridlock we've got now. It's just some to keep in mind over the next couple of weeks and beyond.

About this student journalist: From Rock Falls, Ill., Cody Koeppen is a senior at SAU double majoring in Radio/TV and Journalism. Aside from being a staff writer for The Buzz, Cody also hosts a weekly radio show on KALA. Cody has no specific plans after graduation, and remains open to any job offers that his degree and experience may allow.

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