Life — and the Debate — Goes On

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Friends of Mel Carnahan, the story today goes, say the governor would have wanted the debate to go on, and so it will. George W. Bush canceled a 9:30 a.m. appearance at nearby Webster University, but after discussions between the campaigns and the Commission on Presidential Debates, the word was that everything else would proceed as scheduled.

By 9 a.m. the Washington University Campus was already fully engaged in preparation. The football team has just finished an early morning practice; the cops begin setting out the barricades that will snarl traffic and make today a day to skip class; a woman paints in big red letters on the side of a bridge directions to the Ralph Nader rally (for you Nader supporters in St. Louis, the candidate will speak at a 5 p.m. rally today. You can find directions here. The Carnahan death is in the air; the cops talk about friends of theirs on the highway patrol who talked to some farmer who said the crash was the loudest thing he'd ever heard. On KMOX talk radio, callers discuss the peculiar nature of campaigning in Missouri, which because it contains a fair number of good-sized towns not served by commercial air flight requires candidates to often travel by charter or personal aircraft. The accident itself is eerily similar to one 24 years ago, when Democrat Rep. Jerry Litton's plane crashed soon after takeoff as he was flying to Kansas City to accept his party's nomination for the U.S. Senate.

The whole Washington U. campus has been webbed in those orange plastic mesh fences you see at construction sites, and those students actually trying to make it to class are forced to take long, seemingly arbitrary detours. Unless you know somebody, that is; a cop cuts the fence in one place to let students distributing copies of the debate edition of the campus newspaper, Student Life, through.

Over at the student union there are a couple of early risers putting up decorations and looking bored. The Falun Dafa (you and the Chinese government know them as Falun Gong) people are also in the house, passing out their literature, although they either don't speak English or are really good at politely ignoring requests for more information.

St. Louis proper may be Gephardt country, Democrat country, but the suburban streets west of Wash U. definitely belong to Bush. There are no Gore/Lieberman signs in the nicely manicured lawns here, only Bush/Cheney and the occasional "Go Cardinals." And ravens. Ravens everywhere, perching on the signs, quothing "nevermore" incessantly, which may or may not be a good omen for the candidates.

The media hospitality tent is being run by local icon Anheuser Busch and comes complete with ping-pong and hockey tables, although surprisingly (this being St. Louis), the bar isn't yet serving at 9 a.m. Some Gore staffers ping and pong for a bit, then head out. All part of a subdued, but still business-as-usual, walkup to the debate.