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Ford, Steele Offer Views On Election At Duke Debate

This story was written by Carmen Hernandez, The Duke Chronicle

The debate Wednesday night between Harold Ford, chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, and Michael Steele, chair of a Republican Political Action Committee, GOPAC, seemed more often a consensus than a debate between the two political leaders on policy issues.

Approximately two-thirds of Duke University's Page Auditorium was filled with mostly upperclassmen and graduate students, and the event was moderated by Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations. The debate was sponsored by Duke University Union, Black Student Alliance and the Hart Leadership Program's Connect2Politics Initiative.

The debaters, who said they have been friends for several years, discussed mostly general issues like energy policy and campaign funding, and did not aggressively endorse their parties' respective presidential candidates.

"It wasn't an angry debate-it was a fun debate," senior Robert Dodson said.

Ford and Steele, who are both black, agreed that race was not a factor in former secretary of state Colin Powell's decision to endorse Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

"For anyone to say that Colin Powell would have supported a person running for president because he is black is just hard for me to understand and hard for me to accept," Ford said.

But Steele noted that Powell might have some resentment toward the Bush administration, making his decision easier.

The debate ended with an hour-long question-and-answer session. A student sparked a negative reaction from both the audience and the two political leaders when he asked whether citizens should be required to pass a competency test in order to vote.

Ford and Steele denounced the suggestion and said voting is a fundamental right.

"I don't care if you can't spell your own name. I would die for [your] right to vote," Steele said.

The Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture hosted a dinner before the debate for representatives from the DUU Major Speakers committee, BSA, Duke Democrats and Duke College Republicans to meet the political leaders.

At the dinner, a student asked Ford and Steel what role they thought college students played in the present election. Steele spoke about the importance of younger generations becoming more involved in politics that will affect them in the future.

"When you leave this University and walk into the marketplace... to become the leader in this country, you will have to pick it up and deal with [the country's problems]," he said.

Before the debate, Ford told The Chronicle that Republican candidate Sen. John McCain's robocalls, which his campaign have been making in critical states, are not helping him because voters are concerned about other issues.

"John McCain is out fabricating some craziness about terrorists. The real question that voters have to ask is, 'Do you think Colin Powell will support someone for president who pals around with terrorists?'" Ford said.

Although the economic downturn was not discussed extensively during the debate, Steele told The Chronicle that he does not support Congress injecting cash whenever the market seems in trouble.

"These drops in the Dow and in the NASDAQ is a leveling-off-it's a balancing," he said.