By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service
DANVILLE — Company’s comin’ and the people who live in this small, central Kentucky hamlet of 16,000 can hardly wait.
On Thursday evening, the town’s cultural epicenter - private Centre College, enrollment 1,340 - will be host to the only debate between vice presidential candidates Republican Paul Ryan and incumbent Democrat Joe Biden.
“Absolutely! We’re thrilled,” exclaimed Jan Nallinger when asked outside the Maple Tree Gallery on Main Street if the community welcomed the influx of visitors and hordes of media. “Why wouldn’t we be? This is grand and we’re just tickled to death!”
Like any hospitable host, Danville is sprucing up. Behind Nallinger the Maple Tree Gallery’s windows were decked out in red, white and blue bunting, merchandise and an official debate poster – “The Thrill in the ‘Ville.”
Next door at Karamel Kreations Gourmet Caramel and Gifts, owner Beth King and her husband, Jeff, are dipping caramel covered apples in red, then white and finally blue chocolate.
Down the block, Chris Corman and another worker are carefully painting an overhead street sign supporting structure black.
“We’re trying to clean everything up and make it look real pretty for our visitors,” Corman said.
On street corners are pots of mums with small American flags and fire hydrants have been painted red, white and blue. Some sidewalk curbs have been painted and several businesses have new coats of paint.
Maple Tree Gallery owner Julie Nelson happily shows customers “loaves’ of Primal Element Soap in red, white and blue colors. For $8 she’ll slice a bar of soap and customers can choose one with a donkey or one with an elephant.
“It’s our soap poll,” Nelson laughed. “The Republicans are ahead. We’re on our second loaf of Republican soap but we’ve sold just half a loaf of Democratic soap.” The “poll’ supports Kentucky’s recent Republican trend and Barack Obama’s poor showing here in the 2008 primary and general elections. He’s expected to lose the state to Republican Mitt Romney by a large margin.
Nelson said she’s had a few out of town customers, including a young couple from London, England, in town along with 25,000 visiting nearby Perryville Saturday for the 150th commemoration of the Civil War Battle there featuring 2,500 re-enactors.
But she expects a lot more beginning Monday.
Secret Service agents have rented an entire section of a local hotel. The national broadcast networks are expected in town on Sunday and Monday. Centre College expects 3,200 credentialed media types, news anchors, analysts, reporters, photographers and technicians, 600 of them from 39 foreign countries.
They’ll converge on tiny but prestigious Centre, an academically highly rated private liberal arts college which claims two Supreme Court Justices and four vice presidents among its graduates. Located just three blocks from downtown, the college hosted the 2000 vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman.
The Commission on Presidential Debates was so impressed, Centre was chosen again this year and Danville is the smallest city, by far, to host any of the 2012 debates.
Michael Strysick, Centre’s Communications Director, said 25 miles of cable are laid out in the media center in Sutcliffe Hall just across the street from the Norton Performing Arts Center where the actual debate will take place.
Such nationally broadcast shows as MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” and “Daily Rundown” hosted by Chuck Todd will set up and broadcast from Centre this week.
Downtown at the Bluegrass Pizza and Pub, owner Colin Masters said he is negotiating with two major, national media outlets to rent out his restaurant. He was reluctant to name the companies until the deals are compete but he said one wants to host a debate forum at his restaurant while the other wants to entertain VIP guests.
No one seems to mind the nosey reporters.
“No, no – this is really fun,” said Nelson, the owner of the gallery. “It’s exciting and it’s also good for Centre, which means so much to Danville.”
Next to the arts center is a field where Strysick expects 70 satellite trucks to set up, some as early as Monday. Security is tight – only those with official passes or media credentials will be allowed inside a secure zone cordoned off from the rest of campus with concrete barriers topped by chain link fences.
Dr. Clarence Wyatt, professor of history at Centre, co-chaired the 2000 debate and is filling the same role this year. Security is much tighter this year than 12 years ago.
“It’s a bigger show this time,” Wyatt said. “It’s more complex in every way. It’s post 9-11 and there’s an incumbent (Biden) this time.”
Yet everyone, everywhere, smiles. Well – almost.
Joe Feather, 63, the operations manager for a nearby water district, said he’s so tired of politics, especially political ads, that he’ll just be happy when it’s all over. He said he has no plans to attend or even watch the debate Thursday. His reaction: “So what?”
“I’m tired of all the ads,” said Feather. “They ought to pass a law that all those ads have to be on between midnight and 6 a.m. And never on during a football game!”
Feather may be dreading this week – but no one else in Danville seems to be.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.
Video by John Flavell, For CNHI