Batesville Prepares For Presidential Debate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Welcome to Panola County, y’all

By Billy Davis

Be good, y’all, because company might be stoppin’ by.

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Hundreds of media and press representatives are expected to camp out in and around Batesville and Panola County this week in anticipation of the Friday night debate between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain.

The setting for the debate is the Gertude Ford Center at the University of Mississippi. The debate will begin at 8 p.m. with longtime PBS newsman Jim Lehrer serving as moderator.

In November the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced the locations for three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate. Oxford has only about 400 hotel rooms, so the media pool, expected to swell to 3,000 by Friday, has snatched up hotel rooms from Tunica to Tupelo.

Batesville hotel manager Vijay Vaghela confirmed last week that national media have booked at least half the rooms in the three local hotels owned by his family, Days Inn, Comfort Inn, and the new Holiday Inn.

Vaghela would not describe the coming news organizations, explaining that hotel bookings are private.

Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey said Monday the media is getting started early. A BBC reporter who is attending the debate was set to interview Autrey by phone late Monday.

“I think he wants to know about Batesville and what’s going on here,” Autrey said. “I figure he will ask some questions about race relations, and I want to tell him about our Tiger football team and how it brings us all together.”

National media will likely notice the new GE Aviation plant as they head east from Batesville toward Oxford, said Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons.

“That will be hard to miss,” Simmons said of the 300,000-square-foot facility built this summer.

Autrey and Simmons, and other local officials will be out of pocket during most of the week when they attend a long-planned lobbying trip to Washington, D.C.

The Panola representatives will ask Mississippi’s congressional delegation to earmark federal monies for the coming industrial park located near the county airport, said Autrey.

In anticipation of the Ole Miss debate, the City of Batesville and Panola Partnership worked together to rent a billboard on I-55 that welcomes this week’s visitors to Batesville.

The Panolian has prepared a one-page media guide that lists local contacts and phone numbers, political facts, demographic information, and other pertinent facts about Batesville and Panola County.

Copies of the media guides will be distributed to area hotels. More copies are available at The Panolian office.

“I think the media will notice the friendliness of our people,” Simmons said. “Most of them have probably never visited Mississippi before. They’re going to be impressed.”