UM students attend third GOP presidential debate in Miami

The 2024 GOP Presidential candidates stand ready to answer questions from NBC News moderators. Photo credit: Lauren Ferrer

UM students were given the unique opportunity by NBC News to work and attend the live broadcasting of the third Republican Presidential debate in Miami on Wednesday, Nov. 8.

Whether they were working as production assistants in the days leading up to the debate or sitting in the live audience, University of Miami students got to hear what the five front-running GOP candidates had to say in their final debate before the Iowa caucus on Jan. 15, 2024.

“All week I had this vision about how the debate would go, what the candidates would say, and all the things that could go right and wrong.” said senior broadcast journalism major Charly Hill.

“Before this, I had never watched a Republican debate, I’d only seen clips on social media of the highlights of the super dramatic moments. Although there were those super dramatic moments, I also paid attention to the little things that might go unnoticed or not spoken about a lot.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took the stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center, battling for the spotlight and presenting their stances on former president Donald Trump, TikTok, abortion and anti-semitism on college campuses.

“The discourse on abortion was by far the most interesting and varied with candidates like Scott encouraging a 15-week ban and Haley opposing a federal ban while respecting the decision of pro-choice states,” said junior international studies and economics major, Bryn Prosser.

“Haley has been rising in the polls while DeSantis will be slipping, so in the next couple weeks we will see whether Haley’s strong performance boosts her standing in the polls or leaves it unchanged.”

Twenty students from UM and Florida International University worked as student production assistants completing small tasks like setting the stage and preparing the candidates and moderators backstage rooms. Students were also given the opportunity to fill in as stand-ins for the candidates and moderators for mock run-throughs of the debate. This allowed technical crews at NBC to make sure their technical equipment was functioning properly before the broadcast.

“I was moderator Kristen Welker’s stand-in and Zachari Levy was Chris Christie’s stand-in.” Hill said. “We had to act as if we were actually them so I was reading Welker’s scripts while Zachary responded as if he was Chris Christie.”

The hands-on broadcast experience gave the aspiring journalists a taste of what a future in political media could look like.

“The experience of working the debate was something unique for me,” junior political science major Zachari Levy said. “Seeing the extensive preparations that go into a two-hour broadcast made me realize that it takes a lot of effort to run these marquee events smoothly.”

Watching the debate live gave in-person audience members a look into what the five-minute highlight reels released the next day failed to show.

“My biggest takeaway from seeing the debate in person was to watch actions as well as words,” junior broadcast journalism and political science major Billie Brightman said. “By paying attention to hand gestures or facial expressions, you can really tell how a candidate would run the country as commander in chief.”

Whether it was receiving TV etiquette instructions from “NBC Nightly News” anchor, Lester Holt, or watching the candidates engage with their families after the cameras shut off, the live audience was able to pick up much more than what is seen on TV.

“It was quite interesting to see the candidates interact with each other on stage during the commercial breaks after criticizing each other just moments earlier,” Levy said.

After listening to the candidates’ responses to questions asked by moderators Holt, “Meet the Press” moderator Kristen Welker and Salem Radio Network’s Hugh Hewitt, students left the debate with a newfound motivation to pay attention to the decisions driving voters to the polls for the 2024 Presidential election.

“I absolutely need to pay attention and be an informed citizen on what candidates are saying, because next year one of these people might be running our country.” Hill said.