By Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer
Due to its location in between Dallas and Houston and being right off of Interstate 35, Waco has seen visits from many political candidates within Texas races.
However, without the large population or big money present in larger Texas cities such as Austin, Dallas and Houston, it is often overlooked during presidential campaign visits.
Politicians such as Democratic senate candidate and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Gov. Greg Abbott, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, Texas state Sen. Brian Birdwell, U.S. Rep. Bill Flores and member of the Texas House of Representatives Charles Anderson have all paid visits to Waco.
According to the Waco History Project, past presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all visited Waco.
These visits, however, were not for campaign purposes.
George W. Bush also visited campus in 2002 and 2005 as he hosted the 2002 President’s Economic Forum and a meeting on campus with leaders from Mexico and Canada.
While college campuses have often been a popular spot for political candidates to visit on the campaign trail, we have yet to see Baylor be a part of a presidential campaign stop.
According to Bill Mahon of Inside Higher Ed, college campuses often appeal to candidates because of the little to zero cost of speaking in their venues.
“And young people are traditionally politically active,” Mahon said. “Institutions are often eager to oblige, as they like the image of dozens, if not hundreds, of reporters rushing onto the campus and providing a nice publicity bump.”
Rochonda Farmer-Neal, director of Baylor’s office of Governmental Relations, said that the university looked into hosting a 2020 Presidential Debate on campus but said it was not economically feasible for the university.
“There’s a lot of regulations,” Farmer-Neal said. “And in addition to that, it’s a lot in addition to the regulations and requirements. Economically, it’s not feasible. It’s very expensive to host it.”
However, she said when she compares the numbers to the Big 12, she feels that Baylor has the same presence of political officials.
“UT is so centrally located and it has the Capitol there, and so with all the meetings, up until recently, with the members being there in Austin, I could see them having more access to more individuals,” Farmer-Neal said.
She said that if a presidential candidate were to visit campus, they would have to invite their opponent as well.
“We have to make it very equal. We must invite the other candidate,” Farmer-Neal said.
Despite this, Patty Castillo, president of McLennan County Republican Women, said that Waco remains an important place for Texas candidates to visit.
“I wouldn’t say it’s not an important place, but for national candidates, they have to go where their stop will attract the most amount of people so they usually go to bigger populations centers,” Castillo said.
Mary Duty, McLennan County Democratic Party chair, said that for a while there was a man in Waco that was known for being a generous Democratic donor, drawing more candidates in.
“He’s passed away now, but there were several years where we had lots of folks coming by because they wanted to see that particular donor,” Duty said. “They wanted to be sure that donor liked their candidacy or would endorse them.”
However, she said that many Democratic candidates run their campaign on the $27 donor, a model taken on by Bernie Sanders where the average donation amount is $27 rather than large amounts from large corporations.
“The $10 and $20 donor is far more prevalent than you think,” Duty said.
As the 2020 United States Senate election is also nearing on Nov. 3, John Cornyn, Republican incumbent, and MJ Hegar, Democratic nominee, are running against each other to join Ted Cruz.
According to Nohely Mendoza of Fox 44 News, Cornyn visited the Health Center in Waco in August to see how the CARES act was helping the community during the pandemic.
No information was found about MJ Hegar’s recent presence in Waco.
However, Castillo said that as McLennan County is largely conservative and Republican, there may be a higher chance that Republican candidates visit.
“We have a few offices that are up for election right now that the Republican candidate is running uncontested,” Castillo said, “so they visit here as much as they need.”
Castillo said she doesn’t think COVID-19 has had an impact on where the candidates are campaigning.
“I don’t think COVID has stopped the president from going where he needs to go to get re-elected,” Castillo said. “I really couldn’t say about Joe Biden’s campaign but I know that his events have been a lot smaller and a lot more cautious as far as masks and that sort of thing.”
According to reporter Jack Fink of CBS DFW, President Donald Trump was expected to visit Dallas and Houston before testing positive for COVID-19, and according to Tom Abrahams of ABC 13 in Houston, Jill Biden, wife of Joe Biden, visited El Paso, Dallas and Houston on Tuesday.
As the presidential campaigns continue, Donald Trump is back on the campaign trail in Florida this week, less than two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19.
“It’s important for our students to be educated on the process,” Farmer-Neal said. “Not just on the candidates, but on the platform for the political parties.”