Cartoon courtesy of MCT, Andrew Holleran / Photo editor, Christopher Braun / Design editor
Ohio Stadium is the place to be seen for politicians this election cycle.
This election season the ‘Shoe has seen political candidates from across America for each of the first two games of the Buckeyes’ season, and a third could be on the way this weekend.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who spoke at OSU’s Spring Commencement, might make it three political visits to Ohio Stadium in as many weeks Saturday when the Buckeyes play California.
In an email to The Lantern, OSU spokesman Jim Lynch said Rice’s visit to campus this weekend was probable.
Two political visits are already in the books.
Most recently, Mayor Buddy Dyer, D-Orlando, a potential Floridian gubernatorial candidate, traveled to the Horseshoe this past Saturday to watch the Central Florida Knights battle the Buckeyes. One week prior, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan came to watch his alma mater team, the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks, Sept. 1 at the ‘Shoe.
These visits are, perhaps, a nod to the spectacle that is an OSU football gameday and the visibility the events provide. Still, OSU President E. Gordon Gee said he tries to safeguard the university from being politicized by the visits.
Dyer mingled with some of UCF’s traveling supporters before Saturday’s game and later met with Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman. He has been encouraged to enter the Sunshine State’s 2014 gubernatorial race, according to a Sept. 6 Orlando Sentinel report.
Heather Fagan, Dyer’s deputy chief of staff, told The Lantern he will focus on getting President Barack Obama re-elected before making a decision about Florida’s 2014 governor’s race.
Dyer told The Lantern that Saturday was his first visit to the ‘Shoe and called the venue a great one.
“We had a chance to walk around the festive atmosphere here and the Ohio State fans are very respectful,” Dyer said. “I went out and had my picture taken on the ‘O’ on the middle of the field so, it’s fun.”
Ryan, who shares the presidential ticket with Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, arrived to the ‘Shoe about an hour before kickoff, spending a few minutes at a private tailgate party playing cornhole and greeting fans.
Politicizing public events like OSU football games is hard to avoid, Gee said, adding that it’s a practice that originated long ago.
“That’s as old as the Olympics. In (Mount) Olympus, all the politicians were there cheering on their team,” Gee said. “The thing about it is, we’re not going to prevent that from happening. This is First Amendment availability, this is open space, open time, open opportunity. But what we can do is – we cannot politicize the university on behalf of someone.”
Gee said he actively distances himself from any perception of supporting political candidates.
In response to reports that said he hosted Ryan in his private Ohio Stadium box, Gee told The Lantern he only briefly visited with Ryan, who sat in a Huntington Bank box.
Unlike Ryan, Dyer sat in the OSU president’s box, but that was before Gee knew he might run for governor of Florida.
“If I had known that (about Dyer), I would have scooted him out,” Gee said with a smile.
Gee cited Obama’s May re-election announcement at the Schottenstein Center, which he did not attend, as evidence of distancing himself from politicians.
A tour around OSU’s academic core, Gee said, would be a different story.
“Now, if he came as president of the United States and visited our laboratories or our libraries or something, then obviously I would be there to greet him,” he said. “I try to walk that line.”