Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama spoke at the BankUnited Center Fieldhouse on Sept. 19 and 20, respectively.
Their visits were part of Univision broadcasts, and aired on the Spanish-language station after each event. Univision, a television station with studios and operations in Doral, conducted both sessions in a question and answer format, with questions asked in Spanish and candidates answering in English. Translations were provided when necessary.
Rudy Fernandez, vice president for government affairs, said that hosting both presidential candidates on campus within 24 hours of each other, and less than two months before the national election, was unique to UM.
“I don’t know of any other university that can claim that feat this election cycle,” he said. “Partnering with Univision is a key part of that. You need a network.”
Of the 750 total tickets, UM had more than 400, with 99 percent of those tickets going to students, according to Fernandez. As per each campaign’s request, UM Young and College Democrats and UM College Republicans, as well as other undergraduate political organizations, had initial access to the student tickets.
The remaining student tickets were distributed through a ticket lottery.
Univision, along with each presidential campaign, was responsible for distributing the remainder of the tickets.
“If you’re interested in democracy and seeing the electoral process up close, this is a great place to see it happen,” Fernandez said.
Audience members had an opportunity to ask questions, while others submitted questions on the Univision Noticias Facebook page, which streamed the events. Facebook was one of the sponsors.
Fernandez said that each candidate was looking to secure the Hispanic vote, a key demographic in Florida.
“You’ve got to realize that both President Obama and Governor Romney are trying to appeal to voters, particularly in this target state of Florida,” he said. “This is one of those states that is going to decide the election results.”
In 2007, the university and Univision hosted two presidential debates during the presidential primary season.
The Univision event also marked President Obama’s second visit to the University of Miami. Earlier this year, the president also spoke at the Fieldhouse to address the United States’ energy policy. Before his speech, the president received a tour of the College of Engineering, as well as a demo of an in-house project focused on energy efficiency.
Unlike the upcoming events, the former event was solely open to UM students.
The White House decided to host the event at the Fieldhouse, in order to limit the number of attendees. President Donna E. Shalala said she tried to convince Obama and the White House to host the event in the BankUnited Center.
This time, however, the small venue was selected based on considerations about the taping of the show.
While release of the events’ information caused excitement on campus – students’ Facebook statuses reflected civic interest – other students thought the visits were purely publicity stunts.
“It’s to influence college students and to get them to vote,” senior Sneha Lalla said. “The candidates don’t talk about anything. It’s just a hype.”
Fernandez was confident the candidates will be back to Miami.
“I bet you that Sept. 19 and 20 are not the last visits for these two guys in South Florida,” he said. “We are actively engaging both of the campaigns in conversations about the fact that the BankUnited Center is a great facility to conduct a last-minute rally. And I’ll leave it at that.”