A change in venue reduced the number of seats available for the Nov. 6 Democratic presidential candidate forum at Winthrop University, frustrating some local residents who won’t see the MSNBC-hosted event in person.
The event will feature presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent; and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. MSNBC show host Rachel Maddow will interview each candidate.
Tickets were gone in less than five minutes when the event registration site opened online Friday morning. On social media, some people voiced frustration. Others were dismayed they were directed to a waiting list on the South Carolina Democratic Party website.
South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison said the change was made for MSNBC to add to its production plans. He did not disclose details on Friday butsaid MSNBC may make an announcement soon.
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“We think more tickets will become available” once the design of the stage setting is finalized, Harrison said.
Though Byrnes Auditorium can hold about 3,500 people, Harrison said that number of tickets won’t be available. Fewer seats are practical, he said. The stage setting and the space needed for production crews and cameras means some auditorium seating will be removed or blocked off.
The number of tickets that could be assigned to those on a waiting list is unclear. Organizers plan to notify people on the waiting list by Oct. 30.
Harrison said priority may be given to South Carolina residents on the waiting list. Tickets allocated Friday went to people as far away as Arizona and Colorado.
About 1,355 tickets were claimed by Friday afternoon.
The initial location for the forum was Winthrop’s athletic coliseum, which holds nearly 6,000 people. Winthrop and local high schools hold graduation ceremonies at the coliseum.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow will interview Sen. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley at 8 p.m. Nov. 6 at Winthrop in Rock Hill
The coliseum is about a mile from Winthrop’s main campus. Winthrop, a public school, is one of the state’s oldest universities and is often recognized nationally for its historic buildings and overall look.
MSNBC officials wanted to change the Winthrop location to the main campus for “the atmosphere of the production,” Harrison said.
Byrnes Auditorium will still be one of the largest – if not the largest – seating capacities available for the national Democratic debates and forums being held over coming months, Harrison said.
The venue change will still showcase the Democratic Party in South Carolina, as well as Winthrop and the city of Rock Hill, he said.
York County Democratic Party Chair Amy Hayes said Winthrop and Rock Hill “will be the center of the political universe for a day.”
The overwhelming response for forum tickets shows the Democratic Party is strong in the South, despite the Palmetto State being a GOP stronghold for most statewide offices and presidential elections, Harrison said. He represents 13 Southern states on the national Democratic Party executive committee.
It’s time, Harrison said, for the national party to “re-engage” with states such as South Carolina where the demographics are changing and more people consider themselves Democrats or Independents.
Last month when Sanders held a rally at Byrnes Auditorium, the building was near capacity. Winthrop has also hosted many Republican candidates over recent months and has, for several years, been a popular campaign stop for politicians.
‘Biggest thing’ in Rock Hill in a ‘long time’
The quick allocation of event tickets didn’t surprise Dan Bookamyer of York, who called The Herald on Friday morning to ask about the changes to the forum . Tickets were free on Friday. Original plans for the coliseum had tickets priced at $25.
Life is a lottery and we don’t always get the golden ticket.
S.C. Democratic Party chair says he understands frustration
Bookamyer sees South Carolina’s political demographics changing. Originally from Pittsburgh, Bookamyer says people moving to South Carolina are bringing new ideas and new political views.
With names such as Clinton, Sanders and Maddow in town, it’s expected people would clamor for access, Bookamyer said. He was disappointed tickets weren’t available Friday morning shortly after the reservation form went online.
“I’m not even going to bother (signing up for the waiting list),” he said. Bookamyer said the coliseum would have been a better location, regardless of the aesthetic or production considerations.
Joanna Angle, a self-described “lifelong Democrat” in Chester County, also called The Herald on Friday to ask if the state party website was broken because she couldn’t reserve tickets. The website wasn’t down; tickets were just gone.
While upset, Angle said she planned to sign up on the waiting list. She wants to attend what she called “the biggest thing that’s come to Rock Hill in a long time.”
Harrison says he knows people without tickets are frustrated. Sometimes, he said, “life is a lottery and we don’t always get the golden ticket.”
Some of the forum tickets are reserved by the S.C. Democratic Party for groups such as county political parties, the state parties who are helping host the event at Winthrop, and elected officials.
The university was given 200 tickets to distribute to professors, staff members and students. Winthrop’s tickets were made available through a separate online reservation system Thursday morning. Faculty, staff and students were alerted to the tickets via email to avoid confusion, said Winthrop spokesman Jeff Perez.