SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — It’s a historic first for Texas, with Texas State University poised to host a presidential debate next fall. It’s the first time a Texas location will house presidential candidates in a general election debate as part of their race to the White House, TXST officials said in a Monday release.

Texas State University will host the first of four scheduled general election debates on Sept. 16, 2024. Not only does TXST lay claim to being the first Texas location to host a presidential debate, but it is also the only Texas university with a U.S. president as an alum.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson graduated from TXST in 1930 with both a bachelor of science in history and a teaching certificate, the release added.

“It’s fitting that the only university in Texas to graduate a U.S. president will be the first university in Texas to host a presidential debate,” Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall said in the release. “This is an exciting time at Texas State, and we can’t wait to showcase our great university before a global audience.”

Currently, TXST is home to almost 39,000 students, with university officials adding the university “closely mirrors the demographics of the state of Texas.” Nearly 43% of students are first-generation college students, per the release.

“On behalf of our university community, TXST is honored to represent Texas on the international stage and to play a direct role in the nation’s democratic process,” TXST President Kelly Damphousse added in the release. “It is especially fitting that TXST will host the debate as we celebrate our 125th year as an institution of higher learning. Supporting our students in becoming engaged global citizens is core to our TXST values and to our legacy. Our university will provide the perfect environment to debate and share ideas that will shape the future of our nation. Thank you to the CPD for giving TXST and our students this incredible opportunity.”  

Additional general election debates scheduled are as follows:

  • Sept. 25: Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania: vice presidential debate
  • Oct. 1: Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia
  • Oct. 9: University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah

What will this cost?

Damphousse said this is likely going to be one of the biggest events on TXST campus in the university’s history.

He said it will be held at Strahan Arena, also known as the University Events Center.

“That is a large arena, but they will be putting a lot of draping around it and carpeting on the floor,” Damphousse said. “That’s where a lot of that expense is – tenting around the building, blocking off parking spaces.”

Damphousse said there’s a lot of infrastructure on the outside and in the building itself that will have to take place. He said it will cost about $5 million.

“To make that happen, we’re going to do some fundraising,” he said. “Try to raise some money to defray some of the expenses if we can.”

Jack Martin, a TXST alum and the former chair of the Texas State University System Board of Regents, will lead the TXST presidential debate committee as well as aid in the event’s fundraising efforts, Damphousse said.

Why Texas and why now?

As previously mentioned, this would be the first time there’s ever been a presidential debate hosted in Texas.

So, why now?

TXST Political Science Professor William DeSoto said it could be because Texas is becoming more of a battleground state.

Particularly in Hays County, where the university is located, a majority of seats turned Democratic after the 2022 midterms.

“We’re trending more toward the purple direction. Texas is rapidly adding population,” DeSoto said. “It’s a very dynamic, very vibrant state.”

Along with that shift, DeSoto said TXST is filled with politically engaged students.

Jacob Graybill is one of them.

“We really can put people into places of power if we just keep working at it,” Graybill said.

Graybill said he plans on using this debate as an opportunity to get more students to the polls.

“Do like a week long, either voter registration or voter pledge initiatives,” Graybill said.

While it is yet to be seen who all will be on the debate stage, Graybill hopes he and other students are among those sitting in the crowd.

“Get some student members to actually like ask some questions,” Graybill said. “Hopefully every student can hear their voice in the process.”

Damphousse said they’ll try to get as many students, faculty, staff and alumni into the event site but not everyone will be able to.

“We’ll provide other opportunities for them to learn more about the process. I’ve already had several faculty members reach out to me and talk about how they’d like to host events leading up to the debate itself,” Damphousse said.

On Monday, the Texas Democratic Party shared their appreciation for the state’s opportunity to host presidential candidates in a debate forum.

“Texas is the battleground of battlegrounds – and we’re elated to host the first Presidential debate of the 2024 General Election right here in the heart of Texas at Texas State University,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “Last year, Texas Democrats worked vigorously to flip Hays County blue – largely with the help of student organizers at Texas State – and this historic debate will only further our mobilization efforts to elect Democrats up and down the ballot. Texas is in play for Democratic electoral success, and we look forward to heading to San Marcos to cheer on President Biden next September. Go Bobcats!”