Washington State University turned down a chance to host the lone vice presidential debate in Spokane next year because school efforts were...

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PULLMAN — Washington State University turned down a chance to host the lone vice presidential debate in Spokane next year because school efforts were directed at hosting one of the three presidential debates, officials say.

As a result, Washington State, one of 19 schools considered by the Commission on Presidential Debates, wound up with neither.

“We had an offer to host the vice presidential debate,” Michael J. Tate, vice president of equity and diversity at Washington State, said Tuesday, “but we decided, with the focus we had right from the beginning of getting one of the three presidential debates, that we were just not in the position to accept the vice presidential debate.”

On Monday the panel awarded presidential debates to the University of Mississippi on Sept. 26, Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 7 and Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Oct. 15, and the vice presidential debate to Washington University in St. Louis on Oct. 2.

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“Spokane turned it down, great. St. Louis will take that business,” said Donna Andrews, public relations director of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.

In 2004 the lone vice presidential debate drew more than 43 million viewers in 2004 as Dick Cheney faced John Edwards on nationwide television.

Spokane Mayor Dennis P. Hession said he knew of Washington State’s decision and supported it but added that it would have been a scramble to raise more than $1 million in private funds to cover the cost.

“Without the aura of a presidential debate, it is that much more challenging,” Hession said.

Tom Keefe, a former Spokane County Democratic chairman, and county Republican Chairman Curtis L. Fackler criticized Tate’s decision.

“Anytime you can be on the national stage and show off your area, that’s a good opportunity,” Fackler said.

“I think beginning with the Clinton-Gore relationship, and clearly with the Bush-Cheney relationship the vice president in the modern term is an important player,” Keefe said. “For Washington State University to turn that down tends to confirm Washington State University’s own self-image as a second-rate place.”

Harry Sladich Jr., director of the Spokane Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, who worked with Tate in studying the impacts and benefits, said he hadn’t known of the vice presidential debate offer but added that his group never talked to officials in places where previous vice presidential debates were held.

“I think (WSU officials) made the right decision because we don’t have a stitch of data on that. We don’t know what traps could have been there,” Sladich said.

“I’ll bet the cities who hosted the vice presidential debates didn’t have near the impact,” he said. “We would rather save ourselves for another day when we can get a presidential debate.”

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesmanreview.com

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