Texas State University released from contract to host debate, as Biden and Trump sidestep tradition

ByKayla Guo, The Texas Tribune
Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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SAN MARCOS, Texas -- Any lingering hope that Texas would host a presidential debate this cycle was dashed Monday after the Commission on Presidential Debates released Texas State University from its contract.

The San Marcos campus was expected to host the first debate of the 2024 general election on Sept. 16 until President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump sidestepped the commission, which has historically organized the forums, and brokered their own.

Biden and Trump are expected to debate for the first time Thursday. It will be hosted by CNN in Atlanta.

Lafayette College, Virginia State University, and the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, were also selected by the commission to host debates in the fall. Like Texas State, they were released from their contracts on Monday.

"It is unfair to ask the four campuses to continue to prepare for their debates, as they have been doing since their November 2023 selection," commission co-chairs Antonia Hernández and Frank Fahrenkopf said in a statement. "We are grateful to the sites, and we are sorry to come to this decision. We are dismayed that students of the four campuses will not have the opportunity to participate in these historic voter education forums."

Texas State would have been the first Texas university to host a presidential debate. Officials were expecting to spend about $5 million to host its debate and had appointed Jack Martin, a former chair of the Texas State University System's Board of Regents, to lead fundraising.

The university said on Monday that it had immediately stopped planning and spending related to the debate when Biden and Trump announced their alternative plans last month.

"We remain steadfast in supporting our students and the entire university community as they continue to learn about democracy, to engage in civil discourse, and to participate in the electoral process throughout the upcoming election cycle," Texas State President Kelly Damphousse said in a statement on Monday, adding that the university had been excited to host the forum as the only Texas university to have graduated a U.S. president and the only Hispanic-Serving Institution selected to host a debate.

While news organizations frequently host debates during the primary, the nonpartisan debate commission was established in 1987 to provide a neutral forum for candidates ahead of the general election.

The commission said in its statement that it would be ready to sponsor debates this election cycle "should circumstances change."

"The reason for the CPD's creation remains compelling: a neutral organization with no other role during the general election is well-positioned to offer formats that focus on the candidate and the issues that are most important to the American people," Hernández and Fahrenkopf said.

In a letter to the commission last month, the Biden campaign said that the commission's debate format was no longer up to date with contemporary voting trends. Debates were scheduled to take place after early voting in many states had already begun. The campaign also said the commission failed to enforce its own rules during the 2020 debates.

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. failed to qualify for this week's debate in Georgia after falling short of CNN's criterion requiring participants to have qualified for ballot spots in states that totaled at least 270 Electoral College votes-the minimum to win the White House.

Trump and Biden are also expected to debate Sept. 10.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans - and engages with them - about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.