The venue for the first U.S. presidential debate was changed on July 27 after the University of Notre Dame withdrew as the host site over concerns related to the CCP virus. Case Western University in Cleveland announced it will host the Sept. 29 event instead.
Notre Dame President John Jenkins said in a statement that “the constraints the coronavirus pandemic put on the event—as understandable and necessary as they are—have led us to withdraw.
“The inevitable reduction in student attendance in the debate hall, volunteer opportunities, and ancillary educational events undermined the primary benefit of hosting—to provide our students with a meaningful opportunity to engage in the American political process,” he added.
Barring a Democratic convention surprise, President Donald Trump would face presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at Case Western's Health Education Campus. The university shares the campus with the Cleveland Clinic, which is co-hosting the event.
“This pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of health care and scientific discovery in unprecedented ways. To have the presidential candidates discuss these issues in our innovative learning space represents a tremendous opportunity for both institutions—and our entire region,” Cleveland Clinic CEO and President Tom Mihaljevic and Case Western Reserve University President Barbara Snyder said in a joint statement.
Case Western’s Health Education Campus opened in 2019 and features a 477,000-square-foot pavilion.
The partnership with the Cleveland clinic will make the COVID-19-related preparations easier according to Case Western. The Health Education Campus’s distance from the main campus also makes hosting the event more feasible.
The Cleveland Clinic is advising the Commission on Presidential Debates on pandemic-related logistics for all four of the scheduled debates before the election on Nov. 3. The hospital will establish risk-mitigation procedures with the pavilion, including capping the audience size, distancing seats, and rolling out disinfectant measures.
“We are all challenged with adapting to a ‘new normal’ and safety is key as we all face this pandemic together,” said James Merlino, the chief clinical transformation officer at Cleveland Clinic and chief health security adviser to the Commission on Presidential Debates. “The Cleveland Clinic has been focused on understanding, containing, and preparing for COVID-19.”
Case Western hosted the 2004 vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards. More than 43 million people watched the event. The Trump–Biden matchup is expected to draw 100 million viewers, according to Case Western.
Biden leads Trump by more than 9 points in an average of national polls maintained by Real Clear Politics.