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Gainesville State makes case for both candidates in student debate
Event held before Fridays face-off between presidential candidates
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Gainesville State College student Taylor Lanham challenges a panel member's political position during Monday afternoon's political debate at the school's Performing Arts Center.

Click here for video: Watch Gainesville State College students debate who they believe should be the next president of the United States.

As Republican presidential hopeful John McCain participated in a town hall-style meeting in Scranton, Pa., and Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama gave a speech in Green Bay, Wis., students at Gainesville State College argued the merits of both presidential candidates in a boisterous debate.

More than 200 students filled the Gainesville State College Performing Arts Center on Monday where "The Great Liberal Conservative Debate" was held. The local debate was held in anticipation of the first face-off between Obama and McCain, to be held Friday in Oxford, Miss.

While foreign policy and national security are slated to be the primary topics of Friday’s debate, Gainesville State College students touched on those topics Monday while focusing primarily on issues regarding oil, health care and immigration.

Panelists from the Gainesville State College Debate Club, the Gainesville State College Politically Incorrect Club, the Black Student Association and Gainesville State College Students for a Progressive Society hosted the debate. Four conservative representatives spoke in favor of McCain while four liberal representatives spoke in favor of Obama.

Sophomore Jon Brown said it’s Obama’s stance on science issues that won him over. He said he supports Obama’s call to confront global warming by developing green energy sources. Brown called McCain’s plan to drill for oil in Alaska an archaic and short-term solution.

"He’s a dinosaur living in the past," Brown said.

In opposition, sophomore Caitlin O’Dell said she plans to vote for McCain because she wants to see more of Alaska’s oil reserves tapped. She also said having Sarah Palin share the ticket with McCain helped bolster her support for the Republican candidate.

"Oil affects everything," O’Dell said. "I’m for drilling in Alaska because I’m not able to fill up my car and do all the things I’d like to be able to do. ... If we had refineries in Alaska, hurricanes wouldn’t be as big of a deal for energy costs."

O’Dell also said she is in favor of McCain’s support for more hybrid vehicles to fill America’s roads. But sophomore Amon Kirk redirected the hybrid vehicle argument and put it into context for his audience.

"How does McCain’s energy-efficient car affect you when you can’t even afford an energy-efficient car?" Kirk asked.

With the recent downturn in the economy, college students are more concerned about getting jobs after graduation, he argued.

As for immigration issues, it was largely Latino audience members who spurred discussion on the topic. Several students asked panelists about the two candidates’ takes on the issue, asking in particular how undocumented residents might be able to work legally in the United States.

The McCain camp touted the Republican candidate’s amnesty plan for the roughly 12 million undocumented residents living in the country, while the Obama camp touted the Democratic candidate’s plan to outline a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents.

Andrew Wilkinson, a student from Scotland who is in his first year at Gainesville State College, spoke on behalf of Obama and offered a unique perspective on the health care debate.

"Health care affects every single person in this room," Wilkinson told students. "In fact, one out of every six people in this room don’t have health care."

Wilkinson told students the U.S. spends more on health care than any country in the world, but ranks 72nd in the world for overall health care quality. He told students that Obama’s national health care exchange plan would give more citizens access to care, including those hard-to-insure residents with pre-existing conditions, unlike McCain’s health care plan.

The international student said his father recently had a liver transplant in Scotland under its universal health care plan. But Wilkinson said if his father lived in the U.S., he would have died or gone broke paying up to $1.25 million for the transplant.

Cameron McGinty, a member of the Gainesville State College Debate Club, brought abortion to the debate Monday. He said he rallied behind McCain’s call to make abortion illegal, agreeing with the candidate’s idea that a fetus earns human rights upon conception. McGinty attacked Obama’s vague time line determining at which point a fetus becomes a human.

Wilkinson said he believes the majority of the world lying outside U.S. borders is pulling for Obama. He said he believes it’s crucial to not only the U.S. economy but also to the global economy that the U.S. stabilizes its finances and develops a viable health care plan.

"Without economics and health care, you don’t have a country," he said. "Without the work and the workers to work it, you don’t have a country."

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