Authors of the bestseller book "Game Change", Mark Halperin (left)...

Authors of the bestseller book "Game Change", Mark Halperin (left) and John Heilemann (right) and Steve Schmidt (center), senior adviser to Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign discuss the book, the HBO film based on it and the 2008 race as Hofstra looks ahead to Debate 2012. (March 29, 2012) Credit: Alejandra Villa

Hofstra University senior Marina Pino learned firsthand Thursday from a top Republican strategist how challenging it was to run a campaign against President Barack Obama in 2008, and later she posed for a photo with noted CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer after hearing him lecture.

The 20-year-old history major from Hicksville was just one participant in Hofstra University's series "Debate 2012: Pride, Politics and Policy" -- lectures and programs leading up to the October debate between Obama and his Republican challenger.

Debate fever swept Hofstra Thursday with three high-profile political events just months before the school hosts its second presidential debate.

A screening of the film "Game Change" kicked off the day. That was followed by a lecture by the authors of the book that prompted the movie and a top Republican strategist who was highlighted in the book and HBO movie about behind-the-scenes events of the 2008 presidential campaign.

Later, Blitzer lectured in the university's Adams Playhouse on "The World Today." And former NAACP national chairman Julian Bond delivered a lecture called "From Alabama to Obama: A Critical View of the Civil Rights Movement."

"I think it's invaluable and anyone who can get these experiences should jump on it," said Hofstra sophomore Matt Markowitz, 19, of Simsbury, Conn., who attended the lecture by Blitzer and an event last week with journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who spoke about Watergate's legacy.

Hofstra will host a presidential debate Oct. 16 in the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex, the site of the third and final 2008 debate between then-candidate Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain.

Leading up to the fall debate, Hofstra has more programs scheduled under the series "Debate 2012: Pride, Politics and Policy." Coming in the fall are programs including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, MSNBC "Hardball" host Chris Matthews and top political strategists Karl Rove and Robert Gibbs.

Thursday, more than 100 students from Glen Cove High School and Valley Stream Central High School attended the morning screening of "Game Change" and the lecture with authors John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, and McCain strategist Steve Schmidt.

The journalists and Schmidt took questions from the audience.

Andre Fields, 23, a Hofstra graduate student in public affairs, welcomed his ability to question Schmidt about the campaign's challenges. He asked about the difficulties the McCain camp faced in running against the first African-American nominee. Schmidt conceded it was a huge challenge and there was discussion of putting then-Democrat Joe Lieberman on the ticket.

Fields, who said he was going to most debate-related events, said he "thought it was great" to get that behind-the-scenes look.

"I'm happy to have Mr. Schmidt here," he said. He said he is "praying" he gets tickets to the fall debate. Hofstra officials said student tickets will be made available by lottery, as they were last time, closer to the debate.

Pino, the history major, said she considers herself an American politics junkie and is one of a handful of Hofstra students attending the Republican convention in Tampa this summer.

"I've always been so passionate about American politics," Pino said.

Katie Smith, 21, a political science student, said she enjoyed the debate clips that Blitzer showed, and "didn't expect him to be funny."

Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz said, "We want to get our students inspired to participate in the democratic process." He said the debate and events leading up to it are "for our students and for a couple of reasons -- to get the world to know how good and how intelligent they are and how civically engaged they are."

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