When Beto O’Rouke visited campus early in his campaign tour, Penn State students came out in hoards to hear the 2020 presidential candidate. With the primary elections starting February 3, 2020, we can guess that Penn State will be playing host to several presidential hopefuls over the next half year.
Our campus has a long history of being a favorite stop for politicians. Elections are always an exciting time, but on such a large college campus, students can really get close to the heart of the polls as politicians fight for the votes of young America. While Beto is the only 2020 candidate to visit so far, he joins a large group of presidential wannabes to have been Nittany Lions for a day on the campaign trail.
The 2016 election’s biggest visitor was Bernie Sanders, who spoke to an at-capacity Rec Hall before the primary elections. His event began at 4 p.m., and students began lining up early in the morning to ensure they’d get a seat in the bleachers. Closer to the presidential election, Chelsea Clinton and Tim Kaine visited campus on behalf of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Like his Democratic opponent, Donald Trump did not visit campus himself. However, his son Eric Trump spent time in State College right before Election Day.
Back in 2008, Barack Obama visited campus as a senator hoping to one day be president. He gathered an enormous mob of Penn Staters on the lawn of Old Main and was presented with a Penn State football jersey. Meanwhile, former president Bill Clinton stopped at several branch campuses to get students excited about Hillary Clinton’s primary run.
In 2004 we were in kindergarten classrooms, but former president George H. W. Bush was visiting Penn State with his granddaughters Jenna and Barbara to represent George W. Bush in his run for reelection.
Bill Clinton made his first of many Penn State trips as president back in 1996 to deliver the Commencement Speech for the Graduate School graduation. It was during this visit that the infamous creamery mixing scandal occurred, which any prospective student who has toured Penn State will remember hearing about. According to Penn State News, the flavors he lawlessly mixed were Cherry Quist and Peachy Paterno.
George H. W. Bush campaigned for himself in State College twice: once unsuccessfully in 1980 and once as president running for reelection in 1992. Like Obama’s Old Main campaign event, Bush’s 1992 speech saw 20,000 listeners crowd Old Main Lawn.
Jimmy Carter never campaigned officially here, but he spent many visits to University Park enjoying the quiet fishing at Spruce Creek. Similarly, Richard Nixon didn’t make a campaign stop at a Penn State campus, but he did take a trip to the area in 1969 for his uncle’s funeral on South Burrowes Street. Since the trip was personal rather than political, his only interaction with the Penn State community was to shake hands with the police crews on duty to protect him during his visit.
The earliest high profile political visits to campus were by Dwight D. Eisenhower during his presidency because his brother Milton was serving a president of Penn State! Eisenhower made several trips to the area, four during his presidency. The most notable was when he made his “Atoms for Peace” speech on Beaver Field. This speech advocating for nonviolent uses of atomic energy prompted Penn State to award him with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
With such a rich history of political visits, it’s exciting to imagine which candidates you may run into at the creamery before the 2020 election. As more and more high profile politicians are entering the election, the odds of your favorite candidate visiting goes up!