Category Archives: Centre College

The story behind Paul Ryan’s water in the 2012 VP debate

My GOV 334 U.S. Congress class was privileged to receive a visit from Congressman Brett Guthrie this afternoon, who now represents Boyle County in Kentucky’s 2nd congressional district. Rep. Guthrie was an excellent guest and shared several insights about how Congress works from an “insider” perspective.

One interesting tidbit he shared was the story behind why Paul Ryan took so many sips of water during the 2012 vice presidential debate here at Centre College a few months ago. This was famously lampooned in the Saturday Night Live skit that came out later that weekend.

It’s no secret that Paul Ryan is an exercise enthusiast and he drinks a lot of water every day. This necessitates several trips to the “facilities.” According to Congressman Guthrie, on the day of the debate, Congressman Ryan’s staffers would not let him drink any water after 2:00 P.M. so that he would have no need to excuse himself in the middle of a national debate. Apparently, when the debate finally started at 9:00 P.M., Congressman Ryan had had nothing to drink for seven hours. So when he was presented with a glass of water during the debate, he took advantage of it!

My fall 2012 semester, by the numbers

  • 89 students between 3 different courses
  • 2 new course preps = 55 separate lesson preps
  • 521 assignments graded, including 178 exams and 208 essays/papers
  • About 100 hours in the classroom
  • 50+ regular office hours (who knows how many additional unscheduled visits!)
  • 53 blog posts (now 54)
  • 1 Vice-Presidential debate (with 20+ media interviews)
  • 1 county exit polling project (with 1,461 respondents!)
  • 1 internship supervision
  • 2 independent studies directed
  • 2 search committees (100+ applications read, about 15 phone interviews conducted, and 3 on-campus interviews so far)
  • 2 substantial committee report to the Dean produced (between 5 committee meetings)

It was a fun and exciting semester… but I’m ready for a break!

My students give America’s electoral system a C+

This semester at Centre College I taught a course entitled “Parties, Campaigns, and Elections.” We covered a wide range of topics, from the organization of political parties, campaign finance laws, campaign strategies, presidential debates, the elections of 2008, 2010, and 2012, congressional and local campaigns, and things like judicial elections and direct democracy.

For the last day of class, we evaluated the American electoral system against some fundamental democratic standards: (taken from Table 13.1 and Chapter 13 of Campaigns and Elections by John Sides, et al. 2012)

  • Free choice: 1) a choice between two candidates, 2) no coercion of citizens
  • Equality: 1) all votes counted equally, 2) all candidates be able to disseminate information equally
  • Deliberation: 1) citizens have access to information from diverse sources, must be opportunities to deliberate

I asked my students to give America’s electoral system (at the national, state, and local levels) a letter grade based on how well it matches up against the criteria outlined above. Here is the distribution:

  • A: zero
  • A-: zero
  • B+: zero
  • B: 4
  • B-: 12
  • C+: 6
  • C: 2
  • C-: 3
  • D: zero
  • F: zero

The average was a high C+. While we seem to do a fair-to-good job of meeting those standards for presidential elections, several students noted the Electoral College (which gives citizens of smaller states and swing states a disproportionate influence in the outcome of elections) as the key barrier to a more democratic system. Also, they noted that many of these ideals are not being met at the state and local levels, where many seats often go uncontested and information about candidates is lacking.

While the American political systems is certainly more democratic than that found in many places in the world, my students came away with the conclusion that there is still much that can be improved before we can confidently match the ideal norms of representative democracy.

WEKU interview and post-debate analysis links

My summary Huffington Post article on the vice presidential debate at Centre College:

The podcast of my Thursday WEKU interview with NPR’s Don Gonyea, BBC’s Bill Simon, and McClatchy’s Lesley Clark is available here:

Downloadable MP3 file:




My reactions to the 2012 vice presidential debate: a quick summary

NOTE: An updated and revised version of this post is now available at Huffington Post:

Here is a summary of my thoughts, comments, and reactions to the 2012 vice presidential debate, held here at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky on October 11, 2012, presented in no particular order:

“Who won the debate?”

I think both candidates did a pretty good job of doing what they needed to do in this debate. Joe Biden of course had to come out swinging and be on the attack. Democrats were widely disappointed in President Obama’s performance last week and Biden needed to do everything that Obama did NOT do last week. This included being aggressive, direct, confrontational, and challenging. He needed to give demoralized Democrats a reason to stay energized. I think he accomplished this goal. Of course, it’s a fine line between being assertive and coming off as a bully. I don’t know that he definitively crossed the line, but he certainly straddled it the entire evening.

For Paul Ryan, he essentially need to show that he was confident and able to hold his own on the national stage. He needed to show that he could talk about policies other than Medicare. In all of these things, I think he did about as well as could be expected. He started off a little shaky in the first ten minutes or so, but then found his footing and did very well the rest of the evening.

Thus, I score this debate more or less a toss-up. Democrats will likely say that Biden won and Republicans will say that Ryan won. They both got done what they needed to get done.

“What effect will this have on the election?”

Historically, vice presidential debates have had a smaller effect on the ultimate outcome than the presidential debates. That being said, I don’t think this debate will be completely irrelevant. I think that the positive momentum for Romney-Ryan will be slowed somewhat and that Democrats will be a bit more energized. (I also think that most Democrats in America tonight are wishing that Joe Biden would be the one to handle the last two debates against Mitt Romney!) I think that the campaign narrative will even out a little bit more going the next debate next Tuesday evening. And the campaign narrative is what has been shown to affect public opinion moreso than actual candidate performances.

“Is there anything else you’d like to share?”

Yes! I’m glad you asked. First, I think this debate was a bit too “wonky.” Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing to focus so much on numbers and statistics and all that. BUT 95% of the people watching this debate (many of which are very politically sophisticated individuals) simply don’t have the specialized knowledge base necessary to critically evaluate the accuracy or merit of many of the arguments and evidences presented by the two candidates. In this, I think that both candidates could have done a better job of making their case in a way that was more accessible to American voters. That being said, there is some upside to showing voters that you know what you’re talking about and that you have a wealth of information to draw upon.

Second, I think the big winner in this debate was the moderator Martha Raddatz. She was firm and did a great job of pushing the candidates and holding their feet to the fire. And she asked my question.

Six hours to the 2012 Vice Presidential debate

This has been an exciting day so far, and it’s only about half over!

I started the day attending a Politico internet interview in downtown Danville featuring a number of political figures, including the co-chairs for the Commission on Presidential Debates and Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. Later that morning I participated in a WEKU panel interview with NPR National Political Correspondent Don Gonyea, BBC Washington Bureau Chief Simon Wilson, McClatchy White House Correspondent Lesley Clark. That was a lot of fun! I will admit that I was intimidated to no small extent sitting three feet away from Don Gonyea as we broadcast a radio interview on the election and tonight’s debate. (I’ve only heard Don Gonyea’s on NPR at least once a week since since I was a teenager.) It was a lot of fun, though, and we had a great time. 

I’ve spent this afternoon mostly in the media filing center. There are reporters arriving from all over the country as well as from dozens of different countries. It’s been fun to participate in a number of TV and radio interviews. I’m here in the filing center with my colleague Dr. Dan Stroup, a fellow American politics professor here at Centre College. When a TV reporter wants to talk to a political science professor, we’re happy to oblige.

We’ve heard rumors that Paul Ryan and his family are now on campus going through practice runs and walk-throughs. Joe Biden arrived in Danville about an hour ago. They’ve got about six more hours until show time!

The rest of campus is a bustle of activity. There are media reporters everywhere (I watched CNN’s Dana Bash give an interview just earlier this morning, and then someone from NBC doing another interview). The Danville debate festival is going full swing on the other side of the security fence. We hope this will be a good event for the community. 

It’s also been fun to watch MSNBC taping their afternoon talk shows on a platform right outside my office building!

Things are sure to pick up here in a few more hours. Stay tuned! (@benjaminknoll28)

The day before the 2012 vice presidential debate

The vice presidential debate will be held tomorrow here at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. It is an exciting time to be on Centre’s campus. Many people don’t realize the immense amount of work that goes into preparing for a national presidential debate.

Preparations have been underway for months, but they have intensified this week and especially today. There is now a full security fence around about half of Centre’s campus, including the buildings where the debate will be held and where the media will be located. MSNBC has a platform set up outside Crounse Hall where they will be filming much of their programming tomorrow (including Hardball with Chris Matthews). There are Secret Service agents everywhere, as well as state and local police officers. Journalists from all over the world are receiving their media credentials and have begun to set up inside the media hall. A massive performance stage is being erected outside the Campus Center that will host the music performances for the community festival tomorrow.

For a single 24-hour period tomorrow, the entire American political universe will be focused and concentrated on Centre College’s campus. For a political geek like myself, it’s better than Christmas!

Speaking of Christmas, it came early for more than one hundred Centre students who found out today that they’ll be able to attend the debate in person tomorrow evening. It’s a credit to Centre as an institution of higher education that they gave top priority to students in determining ticket allocation.

Tomorrow evening I will not be inside the debate hall for the big event. I have been recruited to assist with the media and publicity side of things. I will be live-blogging and live-tweeting the event throughout the day and evening. Earlier today I participated in interviews with several reporters from around the country and will be participating in a number of media events tomorrow, including an hour-long political panel on NPR and more interviews with local and national media outlets. It’s exciting to be involved in the debate in this fashion, and it’s a privilege to be able to represent the “political science” perspective to the world audience.

I’m also looking forward to sneaking over to the debate festival being held in front of the Campus Center all day. It’s an event that is free and open to the public – we hope that the entire community will come and enjoy the festivities. The debate itself will be broadcast on a jumbo display to those at the festival, starting at 9:00 EST.

For those who are interested, I’ll be tweeting throughout the day and evening tomorrow at @benjaminknoll28.

Also, here are some of my recent articles and interviews previewing the vice presidential debate:

CBS radio interview on the debate:

CBS radio interview on the role of religion in the debate (and campaign):

The NPR panel will be broadcast tomorrow (Thursday) from 11:00-12:00 EST and will be available to most of Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee. It can also be accessed online here:

P.S. I’ll be posting pictures later this week after all the dust has settled.

Huff Post series on presidential debates: previewing the vice presidential debate

Below is a link to an interview that I did recently for Huff Post College’s page on the upcoming vice presidential debate at Centre College. Political science professors from all four debate colleges were invited to participate.


Also, my recent editorial on “previewing the vice presidential debate” can be found here:

Previewing the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate

This Thursday the eyes of the nation and world will be focused on Danville, Kentucky as Centre College proudly hosts the 2012 vice presidential debate between Congressman Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden. Coming fresh off the heels of last week’s opening debate between Governor Romney and President Obama, where Romney had an unexpectedly strong showing, the upcoming vice presidential debate is all the more critical to shaping the campaign narrative this October.

Full article here:

Resources for the 2012 vice presidential debate

So it turns out there there is just way too much out there for me to be able to summarize, so here’s a hodgepodge of links to information about the upcoming debate here at Centre College. This week will be crazy and so I likely won’t be blogging as much, but I’ll be tweeting actively (@benjaminknoll28) and posting things as they came up. Enjoy!

General information about the VP debate:

Louisville Courier-Journal: Paul Ryan, Joseph Biden prepare to take Centre stage in Danville for VP debate:

Sunday’s Lexington Herald-Leader: Tom Eblen–After Obama’s weak debate performance, all eyes on Danville….

Sunday’s Advocate-Messenger: Pundits say Danville VP debate has more sizzle as race tightens.