School where most students favor Republicans finds great value in hosting Democratic debate

Citadel cadets say they're excited about a Democratic presidential debate being held on their campus, even though most identify themselves as Republicans.

Jared Cooper, a junior from Lakeland, Fla., said that in the Corps of Cadets, "you can probably count the Democrats on one hand."

"Personally, I'd rather have the Republican debate here," he said.

But the event will bring positive attention to the school, he said, and cadets will get some firsthand lessons in politics.

About 55 cadets and 15 graduate students will get a behind-the-scenes look at the presidential debate by volunteering at the Monday event as escorts for the candidates and their spouses, ushers and as part of the color guard. Some will also work with CNN, one of the debate's sponsors, to set up things and run errands, spokeswoman Charlene Gunnells said. The school also has about 250 tickets to the debate to distribute to students, faculty and staff members through a lottery.

Rodney Ferguson, a junior from Bradenton, Fla., said he's also a Republican. When he first learned that the

Democratic debate would be held at The Citadel, he wondered if he should attend. But then he realized "this is really something big," he said. "It's one of those things you can't miss."

Michael Horger, a senior from Orangeburg who doesn't identify strongly with either party, said the debate is a great opportunity for The Citadel. "It will put us on the map," he said.

Citadel Provost Sam Hines called the debate "a great opportunity for a student who has Republican leanings to listen more carefully to what the Democratic candidates are saying.

"You can hold principles better if they've been challenged," he said. "That's what higher education is all about."

The most important thing about the debate, however, is that the college can use it to convey to cadets that the school "is about principled leadership," Hines said.

The debate will bring "high-visibility leaders who are models of selfless leadership and service" to campus, he said. The debate also will provide fodder for classroom discussions throughout the school year, he said.

This summer, he said, the college is offering four political science classes. Professors in all of those classes will use the debate in some way to enhance the courses.

Chase Mohler, regimental commander of the Corps of Cadets, said the college had Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani as a commencement speaker. Now it's hosting the Democratic presidential debate. That demonstrates how the school values diversity, he said.

"It puts us in an international spotlight," he said. "We're all excited to showcase the school and Charleston."