Matt Sczesny has seen this movie before. Three times.
A reporter for St. Louis’ CBS affiliate KMOV, Sczesny will be covering his fourth debate Sunday night as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off for their second match up of this cycle. “It’s a thrill. It really is,” said Sczesny (above right). “It’s great to have the candidates here so close to election day, and all of the national traveling media.”
Washington University has played host four times, going back to the first 1992 debate between Pres. George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot. It’s been the site of more presidential and vice presidential debates than any other institution.
“We’re trying to cover all the angles on this, because we do think the interest is pretty high in this campaign,” Sczesny said.
St. Louis’s three news stations have been reporting this week on the history of the debates, and on preparations by the university and local law enforcement.
“We have all of our crews ramped up and ready to go,” said John Brown, political analyst and pubic affairs reporter at Fox affiliate KTVI. Brown will be in-studio on debate night, and will be up hours later for the station’s morning show.
Newsrooms are also preparing for the action outside the debate hall, from protests that might get out of hand to potential security incidents. “Just because you’re covering [a certain] angle of the story, you better be prepared to break off if something else happens,” Brown said.
The 21st largest TV market in the U.S., these reporters say they’ll be speaking to an engaged electorate.
“People in this town are almost as passionate about politics as the Cardinals!” Brown said. “When it comes to politics, not only are the people passionate, but they know their material too. These people follow it closely.”
While its status as a presidential election bellwether has faded, and because the state has turned reliably red, the 2016 candidates have not been here much.
“That’s why this is such a big deal,” said KMOV’s Sczesny, “because [Clinton and Trump] are actually coming here.”
“These debates seem to get more complex and require more planning every cycle,” he said. “And the fact that Washington University consistently keeps getting awarded this is a credit to them, and I think that’s a sense of pride that a lot of people in this market feel.”
“For one night, you have the eyes of the country on your city,” said KTVI’s Brown. “You can’t underestimate how big events like this are to this city. It’s great for a city to have this type of event.”