McCain Event Draws 2,700 to Pitt Center

News Story:

By Meg Barone, 
SHU Correspondent

FAIRFIELD – The Super Bowl took a back seat to politics at Sacred Heart University on Sunday, Feb. 3 when U.S. Senator and Republican presidential hopeful John McCain made a visit to campus.

McCain’s appearance was a pivotal one, coming just two days before Super Tuesday, when about half the country, including Connecticut voters, will go to the polls. It also marked his second visit to the University. The Arizona senator made a similar visit in March 2000 during his last bid for the presidency.  

“We had such a wonderful time here the first time and we’re very honored to be back here,” McCain said, as he exited the gymnasium, after his address that many called “inspiring.”

About 2,700 people filled the William H. Pitt Health and Recreation Center to hear McCain speak extemporaneously about the issues facing the country, including the war on terrorism – which he called “the transcendent issue of this century,” the fragile U.S. economy, better care for veterans, tax cuts and pork barrel spending; and explain why he should be the next president of the United States.

“I know this nation’s greatest days are ahead of us and I think I’m qualified to lead,” he said to thunderous applause followed by an explosion of red and white confetti as he concluded his remarks.

In addition to the sea of enthusiastic McCain supporters, the event was attended by international media representatives from as far away as Russia, Japan, Norway and England, and a number of politically curious people, including Democrats, those yet undecided and many SHU students for whom Tuesday’s presidential primary marks the first time they are eligible to vote.

Jasmin Vicente, a freshman physical therapy major from Wantaugh, New York, said she attended McCain’s rally “to get a better understanding of the candidates in the Republican Party. It’s my first time voting and he could possibly be our president. I want to make the right decision for the future.”

Even those students who currently plan to vote for a Democratic candidate felt an overwhelming need to hear McCain speak in person. “I’m definitely in favor of Hillary or Obama right now but it’s an interesting opportunity to hear him speak. I think people should be informed,” said Chris LeBeau, of East Hartford, Conn., a freshman majoring in finance.

“It’s important we take an interest no matter which side you’re planning to vote for. A big decision has to be made that will affect us greatly,” said senior Gregory Vigliotta, a religious studies major from Mastic Beach, New York.

Katie Dodaro, a junior nursing major from Hingham, Mass., said voters should be informed about the issues and all the candidates’ standpoints before heading to the polls. Dodaro said seeing McCain in person made the political process “much more real.”

Linda Lane, the mother of freshman Zachary Lane, of Hicksville, New York, said the McCain rally is something her son will never forget. “And he was part of it,” she said. Zachary Lane, a business major, plays trombone for the university band, which entertained the crowd as they awaited McCain’s arrival.

SHU Student Government President Matt Telvi thanked McCain for visiting the University to speak about critical issues and said McCain has energized the electoral process.

Before taking the microphone, McCain was praised for his honor and courage by University President Anthony Cernera and a host of Republican politicians, including Lt. Governor Michael Fedele, U.S. Congressman Christopher Shays, former U.S. Congressman Rob Simmons and Connecticut's U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman. They were joined on stage by former U.S. Congressman Larry DeNardis and former U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Johnson.

Cernera told SHU students that McCain is “a man who ought to be an example to you of moral leadership and courage,” because he stayed the course even under the most difficult of circumstances as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.

Lieberman said McCain refused an opportunity to be released from a prison camp, despite being subjected to “unspeakable torture,” telling his captors he would not leave until every other American who was imprisoned before him was released.

McCain, who was accompanied by his wife Cindy and his 95-year-old mother Roberta, predicted he will win Connecticut on Tuesday “and we will win the State of Connecticut in the election in November with your help,” he told the crowd. When McCain left the stage he made his way slowly through the audience shaking hands and signing some autographs.

“I got a big kick out of shaking McCain’s hand. It was a great moment for me,” said Leroy Milewski Sr., of Milford, who, at age 90, was attending his first-ever political event.

It was a great moment for the University as well, said Political Science Professor Lesley DeNardis, the daughter of Larry DeNardis.

“We always try to get our students involved and engaged in politics and government and to become energized about getting involved in the political process of whatever affiliation that may be. It’s tremendously exciting to have a presidential candidate of whatever stripe to come to our campus. It’s not every day that something like that happens. Candidates have to be strategic about where they make their campaign stops so we feel very fortunate that he came here,” Lesley DeNardis said.

To view a slideshow from this event, click here.

McCain’s Visit to SHU in the News
The New York Times: Going for Every Last Vote
The New York Times:  As Candidates Scramble
USA Today: McCain Sticks to Message
International Herald Tribune: Candidates Go to Final Round
Hartford Courant: McCain Buffs Hawkish Image
Newsday: John McCain Pumped by Super Tuesday Poll
Waterbury Republican American: McCain Visits Fairfield
NBC 30: McCain Campaigns At Sacred Heart University
Connecticut Post:  McCain in Fairfield
Rocky Mountain News: Lieberman’s Lonely Evolution
The Day: Candidate Sounding Confident
Danbury News-Times: State of Attention
The Dallas Morning News: McCain Frustrating Some
Photos of McCain's Visit Featured in Meghan McCain's Blog