South Florida chosen as site for final debate of 2012 presidential campaign

By Anthony ManOctober 31, 2011 06:18 PM

One of the biggest single events of the 2012 presidential campaign will take place in Boca Raton – just 15 days before Election Day.

The last of three presidential debates is set for Lynn University, the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, announced Monday.

“We’re fired up. We’re so excited,” said Robert Watson, a political scientist at Lynn. “It looks like the road to the White House will continue to run through Florida.”

The move is a coup for the university and potential publicity bonanza for the city – but it also carries broader political impact.

The final debate is often the last chance for candidates to make a major impression on undecided voters and to solidify decisions of people who’ve already made up their minds.

“It may be the only debate that people watch,” said Charles Zelden, a professor of history and legal studies who specializes in politics and voting at Nova Southeastern University. “As you get closer to November, it becomes more and more important.”

Debates rarely win an election for a candidate, but they can severely hurt by creating or locking in a negative impression. “You get asked the question what would you do if your wife was raped and killed and you freeze. Boom. You’ve just lost the presidency,” he said.

The examples are legion, starting with the famous 1960 debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Nixon declined makeup, and Zelden said, appeared dark and shifty under the glare of television lights.

Zelden, Watson and Mark Alan Siegel, chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, said the Florida is likely to have outsized influence on picking the next president.

It’s the fourth largest state and will award 29 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Florida is critical because it could go either way, Zelden said, while Texas is certain to go Republican and California and New York are seen as safely Democratic.

For Boca Raton, “it’s just absolutely outstanding,” said Mayor Susan Whelchel. “It’s very cool. It’s exciting.”

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