A history of recent presidential candidates speaking at UB
Biden, Sanders and Clinton have all graced the Alumni Arena stage
Joe Biden. Bernie Sanders. Ted Cruz. Hillary Clinton.
Over the past few years, UB has hosted a who’s who list of presidential candidates. Some of these individuals were on the campaign trail; others visited campus as part of the university’s Distinguished Speakers Series.
All brought significant fanfare.
The Queen City usually isn’t competitive in either the primaries or the general election, but that hasn’t stopped candidates from coming to campus.
Jacob Neiheisel, an associate professor of political science at UB, said New York is rarely a pivotal state in either party’s candidate selection process, but that candidates might come to UB to “encourage donations” or to “craft a perception that they are pursuing a 50-state strategy.”
“Candidates go where it is easy to gather a crowd,” Neiheisel said. “They also go where the surroundings offer a compelling visual to go along with their policy goals. College campuses often check both of those boxes.”
Here is a quick recap of recent presidential candidates coming to campus:
Joe Biden — Oct. 25, 2018
In 2018, Vice President Biden spoke at UB as part of the annual Distinguished Speakers Series.
Earlier that day, Biden had been the target of nationwide political bomb threats.
“Folks, we don’t have all the facts yet and we don’t know who’s behind this and why they’re doing it,” Biden said. “But as my mother used to say, ‘With something bad, Joey, something good will come if you look hard enough for it.’ My hope is this recent spat of these pipe bombs being mailed might wake everybody in my business up a little bit and [they will] realize that we have to begin to put this country back together again.”
The UB Foundation paid Biden $200,000 for a 30-minute speech, a 45-minute moderated Q&A session, a meet and greet with up to 16 attendees and an interview with Spectrum reporters, according to Spectrum reporting from 2019.
Biden spoke about a range of issues, from sexual assault to the decay of institutions. He also spoke personally about the car crash that killed his first wife, Neilia Hunter, and his infant daughter, Naomi, and about his son Beau, who died of brain cancer in May 2015.
The 2018-19 Distinguished Speakers Series also featured activist Angela Davis, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ronan Farrow and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, among others.
Ted Cruz — Apr. 14, 2016
Less than one month before he dropped out of the race, Sen. Cruz came to the Katharine Cornell Theater in Ellicott Complex for a town hall discussion with MSNBC host Chuck Todd.
Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, answered questions from Todd and audience members on topics such as abortion and immigration. Cruz brought out roughly 300 individuals, who watched as the Republican candidate made the case for himself just five days before the New York primary.
“Most people that run for office believe in something, they want to make a change,” Cruz said. “The thing is Washington is so corrupt and it corrupts incrementally.”
During the discussion, Todd asked if Cruz would consider becoming Trump’s running mate if he didn’t win the nomination. “Chuck, not a chance,” Cruz said. Trump held a rally at First Niagara Center — now KeyBank Center — a few days after Cruz spoke at UB.
Cruz finished in third place in the New York primary, behind Trump and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He did not receive a single delegate.
Bernie Sanders — Apr. 11, 2016
Sen. Sanders, a two-time presidential candidate from Vermont, came to UB at the height of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Sanders addressed a maximum capacity crowd of 6,783 people at Alumni Arena. More than 3,000 others braved the rain and watched his address on a large TV screen outside the complex. The candidate — who lost to eventual Democratic nominees Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020 — delivered an impassioned speech about topics ranging from college tuition to mass incarceration.
“This campaign is about thinking outside the box,” Sanders said in his hour-long speech. “It is about raising issues other politicians are afraid to go near.”
Sanders came to UB after 3,399 individuals signed a petition calling on the candidate to speak in the Queen City.
New York is rarely competitive during primary season, but the 2016 election was a rare exception. Sanders’ support was largely fueled by 18-to-34 year olds and members of the party’s progressive wing.
In early April 2020, Sanders dropped out of the race, two months before New York’s Democratic primary. Biden won the primary with 64.6% of the vote. Sanders finished second with 16.3% of the vote.
Hillary Clinton — Oct. 23, 2013
In Oct. 2013, Secretary Clinton spoke at UB as part of the annual Distinguished Speakers Series.
During her 30-minute speech, Clinton touched on the need for stability and bipartisanship in U.S. politics. She also discussed economic growth, investment in the arts and technology and foreign relations — even as she avoided questions about her 2016 candidacy.
“Because we can’t move from crisis to crisis, we have to be willing to come together as citizens to focus on the kind of future we want,” Clinton said.
Clinton was met with a heckler, whose cries about the 2012 Benghazi attack were drowned out by a raucous UB crowd. “[This] doesn’t include yelling,” Clinton said. “It includes sitting down and talking.”
The former first lady was paid $275,000 for her speech, according to Buffalo Business First. Concerns over her high speaking fees — not just from colleges, but also from Wall Street — would follow her during her failed run for president in 2016.
Editor’s note: On Aug. 22, 2013, Barack Obama became the first sitting president since 1853 to speak at UB. However, since he had already won a second term, he doesn’t qualify for this story. Neither does President Trump, who spoke at UB on Sept. 30, 2004 for the 2004-05 Distinguished Speakers Series.
Justin Weiss is the senior features editor and can be reached at email@example.com