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Debate puts Tuscaloosa, UA in spotlight

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Crews at the University of Alabama were installing lighting and assembling stages on 2nd Street well into the evening on Tuesday and traffic patterns and transportation services around campus have been altered in preparation for tonight’s fourth GOP presidential debate.

Candidates Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy are expected to take the stage at the Moody Music Building. 

“It’s extraordinarily exciting at this time,” said Chad Tindol, The University of Alabama’s chief administrative officer. “As a public institution, we don’t take positions on candidates, we don’t take positions on public controversies and issues, but what we do at our best is to serve as a forum for those types of debates.”

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, a Democrat, said that having the debate in town is an opportunity to showcase Tuscaloosa “as an American success story.”

“I want (people) to see a city that has grown by 27,000 people over the past 18 years,” Maddox told Alabama Daily News. “I want to see a city that is now positioned to move into the knowledge and technology based side of our economy. … I want them to see a city that has taken full advantage of opportunities to grow new jobs, to improve our infrastructure, even while dealing with the tornado that destroyed 13% of our city and COVID-19.”

State Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, said the debate will also highlight The University of Alabama, which he said was instrumental in bringing in major employers to west Alabama such as Mercedes-Benz, and its thousands of employees. 

Tuscaloosa was long in the running to hold a debate, Allen said, saying that Alabama’s status as a solidly red state likely contributed to the Republican National Committee’s decision to hold the debate there. 

For Avery Alexander, executive director of The University of Alabama College Republicans, tonight’s debate is an opportunity to learn more about potential alternatives to the current GOP frontrunner, former president Donald Trump.

“I’m a junior, I’m staring the real world in the face,” Alexander said. “I’m getting really, really close to being out in the open, where the economy is going to affect me a lot more than it does right now in this college bubble I live in. I’m really anxious to see how they talk about the economy.”

Alexander said she is also looking forward to hearing more about how the different candidates plan to appeal to younger voters – a voting block that proved influential in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles.

Alexander is not the only one who is looking forward to hearing the candidates’ position on economic issues. Allen also noted the importance of the economic situation to voters, specifically highlighting the national debt and gas and grocery prices.

“The narrative is going to be, basically the same from each candidate, although they’ll probably say that a different way,” Allen said.

The so-called winner of the debate, Allen said, will be determined by “how they express themselves and how they come across to the public, not only on a national stage.”

There is no better time to be holding this debate, Maddox said.

“We need to listen, even if we don’t particularly agree maybe with a candidate or with a particular decision,” Maddox said. “It says in the Book of James be quick to listen and slow to speak.”

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