UNLV’s location just blocks from one of the country's busiest airports has made it a favorite location for campaign stops for future Leaders of the Free World. But the campus also has had the distinct honor on several occasions to host former and sitting U. S. Presidents as guest speakers at official events — often, and not coincidentally, during election years.
Gerald Ford, Feb. 8, 1988
Former President Gerald Ford was the featured speaker at a UNLV Barrick Lecture Series event at the Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall. At a press conference before the lecture, Ford discussed the upcoming Republican presidential primary, declining to endorse a particular candidate. “I am taking a neutral stand prior to the convention,” he disclosed. “I made George Bush head of the CIA, I sent (Al) Haig to Europe, and ran with Bob Dole as my vice president.” Clearly he did not want to take sides at the time, although he also commented, “I think anyone should be allowed to run for president. ” (University of Nevada, Las Vegas Photo Collection, Feb. 8, 1988)
Jimmy Carter, April 14, 1988
Just months after Ford's visit, the Barrick Series brought another former president to campus; this time Democrat Jimmy Carter. He revealed that he would make his decision in the Democratic primary based on who he thought could win the election and said that he believed the Democrats might have overestimated George Bush’s appeal. He added a bit of political strategy saying, “It is advisable that a Southerner be on the ticket.” Carter further expressed his view that the office of the presidency was usually only examined in times of war or crisis, or when there is some kind of scandal. He believed that the office “had been shaped by those who had held it.” (Pictured in the Green Room of Ham Hall with, seated to his left, philanthropist Marjorie Barrick, who created and endowed the lecture series in honor of her late husband, Edward; UNLV Photo Services, April 14, 1988)
Bill Clinton, June 9, 1996
President George H.W. Bush once used the UNLV track to squeeze in a jog during a brief visit to Las Vegas. However, Bill Clinton became the first sitting president to choose our campus as a venue for a town hall meeting. After stepping off Air Force One, Clinton delivered a 20-minue speech on education and environment issues during a rally and addressed nuclear waste storage, saying the decision "should be based on the best science, not the worst politics." He went on to the Moyer Student Union and touted curfews, drug addiction programs, and other preventative measures to juvenile crime. “We can't jail our way out of America's crime problem," he said. (UNLV Libraries University Archives)
George W. Bush, Oct. 14, 2004
Just two weeks before the November election in 2004, George W. Bush took the podium to the strains of the “Washington Post March” at the Republican National Committee rally at the Thomas & Mack Center. Bush outlined what he considered to be his responsibilities as president if reelected for another four years. Bush vowed to keep jobs here in the United States, to increase domestic production, and to encourage new technology. He further promised to keep taxes low and bring about educational reforms that would “close the achievement gap between privileged and minority students.” He said he would continue to fight the war on terror and stressed the importance of our country’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. (UNLV Photo Services, Oct. 14, 2004)
Democratic Primary Candidates, Nov. 15, 2007
A Democratic primary debate took place at the Cox Pavilion less than two months before the first primary votes would be cast. That evening, the Democratic debate was the biggest political stage in the country, with Nevada scheduled to caucus before most other states. The debate was televised live on CNN with Wolf Blitzer moderating. According to local papers, sparks flew among the candidates. From left, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio; Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York, Barack Obama of Illinois, and Chris Dodd of Connecticut; as well as former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. At the time of the debate, Hillary Clinton was considered the front-runner. Obama, of course, went on to win the nomination and the presidency with Biden as his vice president. (UNLV Photo Services, Nov. 15, 2007)
Bill Clinton, Aug. 18, 2008
Former President Bill Clinton delivered the opening address to the 900 attendees at the National Clean Energy Summit. Sen. Harry Reid, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and UNLV co-sponsored the Summit. Clinton proposed the idea to create what he called “energy independent areas,” places that would be reliant on renewable sources, efficiency, and homegrown energy, thus proving the viability of alternative resources. He listed prospective locations, among them Puerto Rico, which imports 100 percent of its energy, and Nevada, where there is ample sun and wind. “Maybe what you should come out of this conference with is a proposal to have the national government, and investors all over America and everybody else say ‘Help make us the first completely self-sufficient clean energy state in the United States,’” he said. “I promise you: if you do it, it will rock the world.” (UNLV Photo Services)
Barack Obama, June 7, 2012
President Barack Obama chose UNLV’s Cox Pavilion to deliver a speech specifically discussing his concerns about rising student loan interest rates. He described his and wife Michelle’s personal experiences with student debt saying, “When we got married, we got poorer together. We sort of added our liabilities together.” It wasn’t until 2004 that the First Couple paid off all their student loans. To create a different future for today’s students, Obama proposed the Income Based Repayment program during his talk. This program provided for a loan payment cap at 10 percent of each student’s discretionary income.
Our 45th POTUS, Oct. 19, 2016
Though we won't yet know who it will be, our next president likely will be on the Thomas & Mack stage for the final presidential debate of the 2016 election season. UNLV and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority are jointly hosting the event. The debate is expected to draw 2,500 media representatives and bring millions of viewers and tremendous publicity value for UNLV.