UNF found itself in the national spotlight Jan. 26 as the CNN GOP debate swept through campus.News trucks and hundreds of members of the media took over the Student Union. CNN filmed live from campus all day and protesters gathered on The Green in one of the busiest days UNF has seen in years. Many students came prepared with protest signs, ready for their 15 minutes of fame. Others continued their daily routines, passing by with little notice, or sitting nonchalantly on The Green. A group of students fought with foam swords just a few yards from the hundreds of debate attendees filing through security.The serious, political side of the event, though taking place on the same campus, seemed oddly separate.As media snapped pictures of the debate setup in the Lazzara, Washington Bureau Chief of CNN Sam Feist said the debate came at an important time, presenting one of the last chances for the candidates to present a closing argument before the Florida primary.
“This campaign has really heated up and has demonstrated that when it comes to politics, Florida really, once again, is the center of the political universe,” Feist said.
Outside the Lazzara Performance Hall, protesters gathered, but the debate went off without a hitch. CNN host Wolf Blitzer moderated and accepted questions from the audience as well as CNN Espanol connecting via satellite network from Miami with the Hispanic Leadership Network.
The candidates were in attack mode as they fight for Florida’s votes. The debate started with a contentious back and forth between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney on the issue of immigration, followed by an argument between Ron Paul and Rick Santorum about trade policy in Latin America. Romney immediately turned a question about the housing market into an attack on Gingrich’s involvement with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Gingrich threw it right back, saying Romney owned shares in the companies. Santorum asked that the candidates leave the fighting behind and focus on the issue, but arguments continued throughout the night.
Questions from the audience brought up topics from the future of NASA, to the role of religion, to peace in Israel and Palestine.
The debate wrapped up with the candidates talking about why they would be the best candidate to beat Obama. All the candidates criticized the Obama administration and tried to demonstrate the changes they would make.