Behind the scenes at Longwood University’s VP debate

Students, professors and other Farmville locals celebrate the vice presidential debate at a festival on Longwood University's quad. Tamar Hallerman/AJC

Students, professors and other Farmville locals celebrate the vice presidential debate at a festival on Longwood University’s quad. Tamar Hallerman/AJC

FARMVILLE, Va. — Tonight’s vice presidential debate is injecting a jolt of energy into this otherwise sleepy central Virginia college town.

As hundreds reporters poured into Longwood University’s health and fitness center — transformed into debate central with plushy red carpets and rows of workspace and television screens  — students, professors and townies rolled into the nearby quad for a festival celebrating the campus’ hosting gig.

Longwood may be small, with a student body of about 5,000, but people were out in force on Tuesday afternoon. Only a select few students were able to snag tickets to the debate via a campus lottery, but many lined up to snag a debate-themed soccer scarf, a tradition typically reserved for the start of the new school year. The design of the scarf is being kept under lock and key until a formal unveiling shortly before the debate.

Students said they were excited that Longwood, a public school about 60 miles west of Richmond, is having its moment on the national stage.

“It’s crazy. It’s definitely making the campus seem very alive right now, which is cool after all the hard work they put into it and kind of being hard on students for the past few months,” said Emily Rossie, a senior from Leesburg, Va., referring to construction on campus. “This is actually rewarding.”

Students planned several events in the lead-up to the debate, including a civil rights walking tour (Farmville was home to many of the plaintiffs in the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case), university trivia and a panel event with former top campaign officials. On this sunny fall afternoon, the mood was festive as pop music blared on the quad and students played cornhole and chowed down on barbecue as they awaited the debate.

For some students, Tuesday’s matchup between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence offered some of their first interactions with the presidential campaigns this school year.

Several students interviewed said they’re still undecided about who they will support at the polls next month. While most said that tonight’s VP debate will do little to help them make up their minds, the event is still one worth watching.

“It’s cool to be here and say ‘hey, that’s my gym!'” on television, said Felicia Tortorici, a junior from Fredericksburg, Va.

Related coverage: 

Here’s what to expect from Tim Kaine during tonight’s VP debate

Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s vice presidential debate

AJC poll: Georgia voters are ‘meh’ on Mike Pence, Tim Kaine

Mike Pence fires up Cobb County crowd with wide-ranging speech

Tim Kaine at Gwinnett’s Fiesta Mexicana: Georgia is important

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