Word about when the participants in Thursday’s vice-presidential debate will arrive in Danville has been scant, but a group of Centre College students got to be there when U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan touched down Wednesday in Lexington. Lucas Wetton, head of the College Republicans, was one of 55 students who got to meet Ryan, a Republican, at Blue Grass Field in Lexington. The students were among about 150 people allowed in to greet the Wisconsin representative.
After a slow taxi and some pomp and circumstance, Wetton said Ryan — along with Ryan’s mother and wife — took time to talk and work the rope line.
“It was a very cool experience,” Wetton said. “To get that close to Congressman Ryan and get to talk to him, really put in perspective what’s about to happen with the debate (tonight).”
Wetton said he was contacted late Monday by a member of Ryan’s advance team, and finding about 50 students to fill up a bus headed to greet the candidate was one of the first requests. Wetton shot out the 21st century clarion call of emails and other communications to marshall the group that accompanied him to the airport.
It’s unclear whether it will be the only chance for people in the state, where Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney holds a commanding lead in the polls, to see Ryan. No other events have been announced.
There also has been no announcement about Democrat Vice President Joe Biden’s arrival or whether he will make any public appearances. Boyle County High School graduate and Centre student Jordan Shewmaker said some of the students volunteering on the Democratic side probably will get to meet the vice president today.
At Centre College, the Obama-Biden campaign has been less visible so far inside the fenced-off area reserved for media members and volunteers. The Republicans did interviews in a section of the media hall heavily branded with Romney-Ryan regalia, while the Democrats had just begun to set up their portion of “spin alley” late Wednesday.
Shewmaker said the campus Democrats also were involved doing advance work with the campaign, but it involved more behind-the-scenes work and adding to their volunteer network on the ground.
Wetton has become acquainted with the language of campaigns. For instance, “operational logistics” can involve anything from getting coffee to escorting VIPs.
Les Fugate is a Centre alumnus and top aide to former Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a job he scored not long after college based in large part on his work on behalf of both the Bush-Cheney campaign and the college during the 2000 vice-presidential debate. He has served on the steering committee for planning tonight’s debate and has acted as a liaison between the Romney-Ryan campaign and the college.
Fugate knows what Wetton is going through because he mostly lived it 12 years ago as the head of the College Republicans. Although Fugate’s role was enhanced by what was perceived as a tighter race and the fact the Bush campaign almost pulled the plug on the debate before finally deciding to come to Danville, he said the sheer number of media and other people focused on the debate has added excitement for the 2012 version.
Based on what he has seen during his week of interaction with the campaign staff and his brush with the candidate himself, Wetton is confident about the result of tonight’s debate.
“I think he’s going to blow Biden out of the water, and I think it’s going to be in large part because of preparedness and foresight of people on the campaign staff,” Wetton said.