Christopher Warren had a closer seat than practically anyone else for the second Presidential debate at Hofstra University last week, literally going toe-to-toe with President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney as one of the 82 local residents selected to be on stage and potentially have the chance to ask a question of the candidates.
“It was an experience that I will never forget,” Warren said about being one of the selectees. “Once-in-a-lifetime, I can’t describe it any other way.”
The 29-year old New Hyde Park resident would never have gotten the opportunity if he had not simply answered a call on Columbus Day from the political poll company Gallup.
“They asked if I was willing to take a poll. I said it was fine, I would answer any question they had and they asked me simple questions about what I thought about the election,” he said. “I guess that I answered them in a way that they liked. Next thing I know they said ‘are you aware that there’s a Presidential debate next week at Hofstra University?’ and I said yes and they said ‘would you be willing to come?’ and I wasn’t sure what they meant at first and then they said ‘come and possibly be one of the people who ask a question to the President and Mitt Romney.”
Immediately flashes of being in front of a billion people across 70 countries watching not only the candidates but the questioners flashed through his mind.
“I truly thought for the first several days that this was a hoax and I kept saying ‘this can’t be’.”
Then Warren started receiving e-mails and phone calls from different people in Washington, DC associated with the Commission on Presidential Debates, who are in charge of the actual debate.
“I started realizing this was no hoax, this was the real thing. (All from) a phone call out of the blue; I just happened to pick up the phone,” said Warren, who is a graduate of Kellenberg Memorial High School and currently an elementary school band teacher at PS 153, the Home Crest School of Music, in Graves End, Brooklyn.
The morning of the debate, the self-described political junkie started his day at the Garden City Hotel with the other selectees, boarding busses at 1 p.m. for Hofstra, where they remained until about midnight, until the motorcades for each of the candidates departed, finally getting home about 2:30 a.m.
“I had a really, really long day,” Warren recalls, describing it as 16 to 18 hours “of the most intense pressure you could ever face.”
Not that the following morning was much different, fielding questions from relatives about his experiences.
“I’ve been on the phone all day long with family and friends,” he said.
Though he spent the entire day of the debate with all of the other selectees, Warren barely knew any of their names, as each person was given a number and asked to refer to other selectees by that moniker.
“They didn’t want the campaigns to find out who we were and then look up what kind of people we were and figure out what kinds of questions we might ask,” he said. “They were very, very concerned about that.”
Each of the selectees had 4 potential questions to ask the candidates, which were collected by debate moderator Candy Crowley in the morning.
“We were left with only one that she thought I guess would be best for the debate,” said Warren, whose question would have been: “For people like me under the age of 30 years old, what do we have to look forward to in terms of Social Security?”
Not that the selectees were nervous about asking their questions, but there were other things going on in their minds on stage.
“The entire time we were out there, myself and I think most of us were included, our biggest fear was ending up on Saturday Night Live,” Warren said. “We were terrified of that, just utterly terrified because they kept saying ‘don’t screw up or you’ll end up on Saturday Night Live’.”
Though Warren didn’t get to ask his question, what ended up being most talked about the following day was completely different that what the selectees had been expecting.
“We were all kind of in shock about what the media’s talking about today,” Warren said, referring to a question about Libya and an interjection by Crowley that many have said favored President Obama.
“Really none of us felt that that was improper,” Warren said. “We didn’t feel that that was something that was going to be talked about. The main thing that we thought would have been talked about was when Mitt Romney talked about immigration and all of a sudden he turned the topic into something about China. That was to us, I guess you could say faux pas of the night. We were just surprised that that happened. He was talking about a very specific subject and all of a sudden out of nowhere it all of a sudden turned into something that had nothing to do with what he was talking about. We were very surprised that that conversation went that way.”
After taking in the debate and reflecting for a bit, Warren still appears to be undecided about whom to vote for on Election Day.
“I was leaning in a certain direction but there was a possibility that I could be, I could change my mind depending on what happens between now and the election; that was kind of my feeling about it,” he said. “As far as what most of us thought that were actually in the room, the people that were actually there, we thought it was a dead-even draw. We didn’t believe we really got a lot out of it. The questions that were asked for the most part we didn’t feel that they were really answered to what we would have liked. At no point did we think that anything that anybody did was out of bounds or inappropriate in any way.”