The USC presidential campaign is starting to take shape after the candidates made their first debate appearance in front of a packed Mustang Lounge last night. For three hours, Adam Fearnall, Claire McArthur, Logan Ross and Jon Silver fielded questions about their platforms and personalities from USC insiders while #VOTEUSC tweets were projected live on the wall.
The Big Winner?
No one, really. But there wasn’t a big loser either. For the most part, all of the candidates played it safe, concerned more with finding their public speaking confidence than boldly defining their vision. All four remained calm and composed through a barrage of vague and repetitive questions that earned appropriately vague and repetitive answers.
Last night’s debate, however, did tell us two important things: 1) there is substantial—possibly unprecedented—interest in this campaign from campus media and
UWO “WesternU” students in general (#VOTEUSC trended nation-wide), and 2) the candidates will have to work hard over the next two weeks to differentiate themselves from one another. Although the four candidates each had their moments, none of them definitively carved out who they are and what they believe in (besides “change”, obviously).
What we did learn is this:
Fearnall is a good speaker and he knows his stuff. The USC Speaker and former HUCSC President demonstrated his political experience and poise last night, responding confidently and naturally to every question thrown his way. His well-practiced anecdotes, however, came across as trying just a little bit too hard.
McArthur is confident and outspoken and got Twitter commentators buzzing with her repeated pop culture references. Given her lack of experience, she was surprisingly deft when it came to questions about the USC’s structure and more obscure services, although the audience ultimately came away with the impression that she has a bit of homework to do before the next debate.
Ross oozes authenticity and charm. She is the youngest and most inexperienced candidate but handled difficult questions about the inner workings of the USC fairly well. She is this year’s David Basu Roy, the proverbial “USC outsider” candidate, who faces the difficult task of selling her message to the people who actually vote (i.e. not USC outsiders). Her opponents had a hard time critiquing her platform since it isn’t particularly ambitious, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Silver, who has the most public profile (Board of Governors, Charity Head Soph) and most public support (see below), was generally restrained in this debate. Although he occasionally dazzled the audience (and his opponents) with an impressive understanding of USC history and operations, he didn’t draw much attention to his extensive experience within the university. Silver was good in this debate, but not great; expect him to play a bigger role in the next one.
Where They Stand
Although it’s always difficult to predict how 8000+ students will vote, social media presence has been a roughly accurate measure in the past. At this point in the race, Silver has the largest social media following (550+ likes on Facebook, 630+ followers on Twitter), trailed by Fearnall (380+, 680+), McArthur (220+, 510+) and Ross (300+, 410+). It will be interesting to see whether or not strong debate performances turn into tangible support moving forward.