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Alabama gears up to host the fourth Republican presidential primary debate

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Yes, the Republican presidential candidates are going to be in Alabama on Wednesday for their fourth debate this primary season. But are they going to be able to get young voters as charged up and excited as they were at the football game where the Alabama Crimson Tide beat the Georgia Bulldogs yesterday? Pat Duggins of Alabama Public Radio reports from Tuscaloosa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARCHING BAND MUSIC)

PAT DUGGINS, BYLINE: Alabama Crimson Tide football games always start the same way - the Million Dollar Marching Band plays the school's fight song. These young musicians practice at the Moody Music Building on campus. That's where Wednesday's GOP debate will take place.

LAUREN BRUCE: Yeah, we heard about it a couple of weeks ago that they were going to come, and they were going to shut down certain parts of Moody for a period of time.

DUGGINS: That's Lauren Bruce. She's a University of Alabama freshman, and she plays the clarinet for the Million Dollar Band. Bruce says having the debate in Tuscaloosa is nice, but as for the politics...

BRUCE: I don't know what I feel about anything. I'm just mostly excited that it's here 'cause I think it's just a cool opportunity.

DUGGINS: This is also the first time a presidential debate has been held in Alabama. For John Wahl, the youngest GOP state party leader in the country, the fact that it's being held on a college campus should send a strong message to young potential voters like Bruce.

JOHN WAHL: It's incredibly important for me that we do reach out to young voters. I think there's not a voting bloc out there that it's not more important to engage with because these are the people who are going to inherit the decisions that are being made right now in Washington, D.C.

DUGGINS: But there are those who think that rings hollow.

A J BAUER: If the GOP wants the youth vote, then I would recommend inviting students to the debate, which doesn't seem like that's happened.

DUGGINS: That's Dr. A.J. Bauer. He teaches political communication at the university. He says the GOP may be talking a lot about young voters, but there's not much to show from it.

BAUER: There is going to be some kind of watch party at this club next to the stadium, but I don't really see a whole lot of direct youth outreach here.

DUGGINS: And Bauer's also questioning the value of holding the Tuscaloosa event at all. Former President Donald Trump, the current GOP front-runner, is skipping this debate just like the previous ones. For NPR News, I'm Pat Duggins in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF HERMANOS GUTIERREZ'S "LOS AMANTES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Pat Duggins
Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio. If his name or voice is familiar, it could be his twenty five years covering the U.S. space program, including fourteen years on NPR. Pat’s NASA experience began with the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, and includes 103 missions. Many NPR listeners recall Pat’s commentary during Weekend Edition Saturday on February 1, 2003 when Shuttle Columbia broke apart and burned up during re-entry. His expertise was utilized during three hours of live and unscripted coverage with NPR’s Scott Simon. Pat later wrote two books about NASA, Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program and Trailblazing Mars, both of which have been released as audio books. Pat has also lectured about the future of the space program at Harvard, and writes about international space efforts for "Modern Weekly" magazine in Shanghai, China.

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