Three locations were set up as viewing parties for students and public, and Bredesen supporters showed up in the greatest numbers as they filled an auditorium with more than 100 supporters after they gathered for a pre-debate rally.
Blackburn had a healthy show of support, as well, but the watch party that had mostly her supporters in attendance had a couple dozen people, a small but quite vocal group in their support of her performance Tuesday night.
It should be noted while many of Blackburn’s supporters who positioned themselves outside Memorial Hall before the debate weren’t at the three viewing parties, they showed up in force to support her as she arrived on campus.
Will Hawks, a senior at Cumberland and Blackburn supporter, said he didn’t want to miss the unique opportunity to watch the debate.
“I want someone who is going to support Tennessee the right way and bring the right values and represent the people the best way possible,” Hawks said.
Diana Gallagher, a Lebanon resident who supports Bredesen, said she was excited to see the debate streamed live at one of the watch parties where she was surrounded by Bredesen supporters.
“I think he’s what we need in Washington right now. Things are so divided, and he’s proven as a two-time governor that he can work with both sides to get things done,” Gallagher said.
Marlyna Wordlow, a freshman at Tennessee State University, was invited by her dean to the watch party where she said she wanted to learn more about politics and the issues that face Tennesseans.
“I just really want to know what these [potential] senators can do for our state and how it would affect me; I want to understand how the process works,” Wordlow said.
Anyone who watched the debate couldn’t miss the numerous times Blackburn referenced New York Sen. Chuck Schumer whom Blackburn said has “bought and paid for” Bredesen and his campaign.
Blackburn doubled down on that claim in a post-debate session with reporters where she continued to assert Bredesen would fall in line with his party.
Bredesen reiterated to reporters what he said in his opening statement during the debate that new leadership was needed in Washington in both political parties. He said all the attention Blackburn gave to Schumer didn’t make sense to him as he would rather debate the issues that face Tennesseans.
Blackburn and Bredesen both left the reporter pool after they each took several questions, but some of Bredesen’s strongest supporters answered questions about their support for the former governor in his Senate bid.
One of those supporters is Stratton Bone, former chair of Tennessee House Agriculture Committee.
“Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in our state and the No. 1 industry in most of our counties. A lot of our smaller counties would have tremendous economic problems for agriculture, and he [Bredesen] was very supportive,” Bone said.
Haley Austin, a graduate student at Cumberland and Student Government Association representative for graduate students, said the debate was an exciting opportunity.
“It was a crazy, hectic day preparing for the debate. I got to see it from all different aspects so just the excitement leading up to it and seeing it didn’t disappoint,” Austin said. “Cumberland being able to be a part of something like that was truly amazing.”
Austin said the debate made her take a step back from her original leanings and reassess where she stands on the candidates.
“I think that they both brought their A game. I personally haven’t made up my mind on who I wanted to vote for and they both made really great cases for themselves, so I’m going to have to think very hard about it,” Austin said.
Kayla Sanders, a junior and student body president at Cumberland, said the debate was a great experience and made her question who she would support in the election. She said she would have to keep researching the candidates before she casts her vote in November.
“It was awesome to just really be able to hear and see the candidates and both of their perspectives going back and forth, rebutting off of each other. It was just a really enriching experience,” Sanders said.
CedarStone Bank president and CEO Bob McDonald, who also serves as a Cumberland board of trust member, was in the audience and said the debate served as a milestone for Cumberland University. He said it was a unique opportunity for residents of Wilson County to see the process of debate and discussion in the political process.
“It was great for Lebanon and a terrific night for Cumberland University in that we could bring the history of Cumberland and all the great government and political leaders that we’ve had over so many years back to the campus tonight,” McDonald said. “I think that everyone today understands that every vote counts. Everything is so tight in the House and in the Senate, and events like this are very important. What an incredible night it was to have this right here at Cumberland University.”