USC Upstate a Stepping Stone to the Presidency? The campaign trail swings through campus

Presidential campaigns were a frequent occurrence on the campus of USC Upstate this past fall. As the South Carolina primaries drew near in January, the candidates increased their presence in the Upstate by attending a variety of local events and visiting numerous local venues, including the USC Upstate campus.

In its 40-year history, USC Upstate has never hosted a U.S. president or former president, that is, until October 29, 2007, when former President Bill Clinton visited campus to rally support for his wife, Hillary Clinton, who is running on the Democratic ticket.

Greeted by a cheering crowd of about 1,400 supporters, spotlighted by national media crews, and surrounded by his Secret Service detail, Clinton spoke passionately, yet in his trademark conversational style, about the hot button issues of the 2008 campaign, including the environment, the economy, health care and the war in Iraq. Xavier Pearson, president of the USC Upstate Student Government Association, was selected by the campaign and the University to deliver opening remarks at the event.

“I don’t know many people, Republican, Democrat or independent, who are not somehow inspired by President Clinton,” Pearson says. A political science major with future political ambitions, Pearson says that the election has dominated the discussions in many of his courses, as well as outside the classroom.

“While he was here, Clinton said that maybe I will be president one day. I don’t know about all that, but we’ll see,” says Pearson.

Clinton’s campaign stop to the Hodge Gym also included a private meeting with African American religious leaders from Spartanburg area congregations.

McCain visitOther notable campaign visits have included Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) who arrived aboard the “Straight Talk Express” tour bus on October 18. After a tour of the Mary Black School of Nursing, McCain delivered his remarks in the nursing auditorium to a standing room- only crowd.

McCain focused his remarks on health care issues but also included his views on his opponents, the war in Iraq and U.S. foreign policy. Students and faculty also engaged him in a lively question and answer session.

Hollywood actress Kathleen Turner, serving as an ambassador for Barack Obama’s campaign, paid a visit to USC Upstate on August 30. Speaking to theatre and nursing students, the star of Romancing the Stone and When Peggy Sue Got Married discussed women’s health issues and women’s rights, issues she says are close to her heart and the Obama campaign. Additionally she dispensed acting advice to many aspiring theatre students.

And just days before the democratic primary, actress Kerry Washington, who starred in the movie Ray as the wife of Ray Charles, and actor/comedian Chris Tucker, from Rush Hour fame, spoke to a lunchtime gathering of students on behalf of the Obama campaign in the Campus Life Center. On the eve of the primary, Chelsea Clinton dropped in on behalf of her mother’s campaign, and spoke at length in private, casual discussions with students at the Campus Life Center.

Chelsea Clinton visit“It is exciting that candidates are choosing USC Upstate for visits,” says political science Professor Tim Dale. “It makes sense for several reasons: Upstate South Carolina includes many undecided voters to whom candidates need to speak; the issues facing Spartanburg and the surrounding area are typical for the key issues in this race (economy, environment, employment, education); USC Upstate is one of the larger institutions of higher education in the Upstate, and we are in a higher population metropolitan area; and candidates demonstrate support for higher education by visiting college campuses, especially public institutions.”

Photo galleries of Bill Clinton and John McCain campaign stops are on the Web at www.uscupstate.edu/images. Kathleen Turner’s discussion is also posted to the Web as a podcast, at www.uscupstate.edu/podcasts.

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