Kent State University Football Coach Darrell Hazell is losing his office for 48 hours and may have to use a chair for a table.
Basketball Coach Rob Senderoff also will give up his recently updated digs, which will serve as the local Oval Office during President Barack Obama’s visit to the university Wednesday.
Such are the inconveniences that come with a visit from a president, though the Kent State coaches and their players don’t seem too put out. Like many others, they’re excited about Obama coming to campus during the final stretch of the heated battle for Ohio.
“I think it’s really, really neat for him to come spend a few hours at Kent State,” said Hazell, whose temporary office will be in a locker room at the stadium. “I think that’s good for the university. It will be a nice thing for the students and the faculty and every else that’s involved.”
The university, which will still have classes, is closing the M.A.C. Center, 1025 Risman Drive, for Obama’s appearance at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Doors will open for the event at 3:30 p.m.
Tickets, which are required, were distributed Monday, with Kent State students lining up at 3:30 a.m. in the cold to score one. The line at its peak had 2,000 students and wound around five buildings, said Eric Mansfield, a Kent State spokesman.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, his GOP running mate, will also be in Northeast Ohio Wednesday, with an appearance in Cleveland that will be at the tail end of a three-day bus trip through the state. The campaign hasn’t yet released details or ticketing information for the event.
Obama’s visit to Kent State, which is sponsored by the College Democrats, is thought to be the first presidential stop at the university in decades, though no one is quite sure when the last one was. Mansfield said the history has been the subject of some debate, with some claiming President Richard Nixon made a stop in Portage County in 1972, and others saying the last visit to the university may date back to either 1912 or 1959.
“We haven’t been able to get anything definitive,” Mansfield said. “It hasn’t happened in 35 to 40 years. That part’s significant.”
Mansfield said the M.A.C.C. can accommodate up to 5,000 people, though he wasn’t sure how many tickets the campaign distributed. He said the university is hoping to set up an overflow area in the Student Center, where students who are unable to get into the M.A.C.C. can watch or listen to the event.
Jessica Kershaw, the spokeswoman for Obama’s campaign in Ohio, said the campaign gave out “a limited amount” of tickets, though she declined to say how many.
Kershaw said Obama will discuss the “two competing visions” he and Romney have, with the president focused on “an economy built from the middle out, not the top down,” decreasing the debt “in a balanced way,” and creating jobs through an emphasis on “education, energy, innovation and infrastructure.”
She noted that Obama’s visit falls less than a week before early voting starts in Ohio on Oct. 2 and a week and a half before the registration deadline for the Nov. 6 election, which is on Oct. 9.
Kent Safety Director Bill Lillich said he expects Obama’s visit to cost the city about $5,500. He said there had been no talk of billing the president’s campaign for security costs.
However, Portage County Commissioner Tommie Jo Marsilio, a Republican, asked county safety officials to track the total cost of security.
“I intend to ask the two other members of the Board of Commissioners to join me in asking for reimbursement from the political campaign responsible for the president’s visit,” she said in an email. “Since the president’s visit is political in nature, I would not expect the citizens of the county to pay for the extra cost.”
A similar request hasn’t worked out so well for Fairlawn. Mayor Bill Roth sent an invoice to the campaign for $34,000 in costs incurred when Obama visited in July.
At Kent State, where security is being coordinated, spokeswoman Emily Vincent said she did not have an estimate because “things are fluid and changing as we get closer to the event.”
Other communities — among them Ravenna — also will provide security.
Lillich said there will be traffic disruptions around campus during the visit. But there were no plans for the president to visit downtown Kent.
Most KSU classes will proceed as scheduled, although two parking lots and some campus roads will be closed or access will be limited.
The campaign is encouraging those who attend the event to arrive as early as possible to get through the line and the airport-like security that will be required. Sharp objects, like umbrellas, will be prohibited, as will any liquids. Cameras and cell phones are allowed, Kershaw said.
The Portage County Tea Party, one of the most active Tea Party groups in the state, is promoting an unusual form of protest for Obama’s visit, urging Portage County residents to put an empty chair in their front yards — a reference to actor/director Clint Eastwood’s “empty chair” speech at the Republican convention. Tom Zawistowski, who heads up the group, said the chairs will “symbolize the empty promises the president has made to all of us since his election.”
Protesters also will be given a designated space outside of the M.A.C.C. to voice their views.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics. Beacon Journal reporter Paula Schleis contributed to this report.