The University of Notre Dame announced Monday that it is withdrawing as the host site for the first of the 2020 presidential debates, scheduled for September 29.
"[T]he constraints the coronavirus pandemic put on the event — as understandable and necessary as they are — have led us to withdraw," university president Reverend John I. Jenkins said in a letter to the Notre Dame community.
He said that after consulting with a county health official, he had made "this difficult decision because the necessary health precautions would have greatly diminished the educational value of hosting the debate on our campus." Jenkins added that "the inevitable reduction in student attendance in the debate hall, volunteer opportunities and ancillary educational events undermined the primary benefit of hosting — to provide our students with a meaningful opportunity to engage in the American political process."
In a press release, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic will now co-host the debate in two months, to be held at the Health Education Campus in Cleveland. The Commission recruited Cleveland Clinic earlier this year to serve as an adviser for health security for all four presidential match-ups.
According to a statement, the Cleveland Clinic will work with Samson Pavilion to reduce audience size, create distance between seats, and implement measures to disinfect, dependent on the pandemic's toll in Cleveland.
Last month, thefrom hosting the second presidential debate. That debate, on October 15, will now take place at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. The third debate will be on October 22 at Belmont University in Nashville. The vice presidential debate is slated for October 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
The commission has stated it will proceed with current plans to host all four debates "in cooperation with federal agencies" would continue to "monitor and assess developments regarding public health and safety."
September's event will be the second presidential debate hosted by Case Western Reserve University. In 2004, the Ohio school hosted the vice presidential debate. Though this would have been the Notre Dame's first presidential debate, the Catholic institution has played host to six presidents at commencement ceremonies throughout the years – more than any other university save military academies.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, of which Jenkins is a board member, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and has sponsored all general election presidential and vice-presidential debates since 1988.
In a, the president holds a slight one-point edge in Ohio, where he won by a comfortable margin four years ago. Ohio serves as a critical part of the president's path to securing the 270 electoral votes necessary to win re-election in November.