Lehrer speaks at Hofstra about book, debates

Jim Lehrer speaks to the incoming freshman at Jim Lehrer speaks to the incoming freshman at Hofstra University in Hempstead about the upcoming presidential debate and his book, "Tension City". (Aug. 31, 2012) Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

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Jim Lehrer had moderated 11 presidential debates and had written a book on the topic before deciding he'd step aside this election season.

That is, until a call last spring reminded the longtime PBS journalist of his duty.

"I believe anybody who is asked to moderate a presidential debate has to do it. It's sort of like a draft," he told Hofstra University students Friday during a talk about his 2011 book, "Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain."

Lehrer is to moderate the first of the four presidential debates at the University of Denver on Oct. 3.

He promised about 1,200 incoming freshmen -- many of them first-time voters -- that he'd do his homework so he can pose questions that are well-researched and fair.

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"So much is at risk. So much is at stake," he said of the debates and the November election.

The two-hour campus event opened a new school year at Hofstra, where the second debate between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney is scheduled for Oct. 16, hosted by CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.

The campus will be abuzz with activity in the weeks leading up to the debate, including guest speakers Christina Romer, former chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers for Obama, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and scholar-activist Cornel West.

Students read "Tension City" over the summer and had an opportunity to ask Lehrer questions.

Alice Gunther, 18, of Brookville, won the school's essay contest for comparing the book to William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." She got an iPad and lunch with Lehrer after the event.

"It is so interesting to hear someone who has been at the center of the debates," Gunther said of Lehrer. "He got so close to the candidates."

Emily Soule, 17, of Asheville, N.C., hopes to hear Obama and Romney debate on health care policy. "I'd like to know where health care will be when I'm actually out of college," she said.

John Thomas, 18, of Minneapolis, said he hopes the candidates detail their policies for secondary education -- an important issue for him.

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Thomas said he's proud to go to a school selected to host presidential debates.

"It was probably one of the deciding factors in my coming to Hofstra," he said.

University officials said nearly 7,000 students registered to vote in the weeks leading up to the Obama-McCain debate at Hofstra in 2008.

Terry Godlove, associate dean of arts and sciences, said 90 percent of first-year students attended Friday's event. "We hope it sets the academic tone for the rest of the year," he said.

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