Campus & Community

DebateFest, watch parties draw large crowds

With the presidential debate happening just a few blocks away in Magness Arena, those who didn’t score a ticket to the big event weren’t upset. They were having just as much fun taking part in the historic event in and around campus.

While all was quiet in the debate hall, debate watchers on the University’s Carnegie Green were making their voices heard as the two candidates outlined their cases Wednesday night. Two giant screens were set up on the green to broadcast the debate.

“We couldn’t miss this event,” said Peter Gilbertson (BA ’75), a University trustee. Gilbertson and his wife came to Denver from their home in Minnesota to be a part of campus happenings.

“We’re thrilled to be here. This is just pure fun,” he said about DebateFest. “It’s a great way to show off campus and the University.”

DebateFest — the outdoor campus festival that culminated with the evening watch party — drew roughly 5,000 students, faculty and staff members and University neighbors. Temperatures dropped roughly 40 degrees by the time the debate began, but it didn’t hinder attendance. Most huddled up in blankets and jackets, and many held up American flags and signs showcasing their support for Mitt Romney or President Obama during the showdown.

Certain talking points earned cheers, applause and booing from attendees. Cheers were loud when Obama mentioned a popular provision of his health-care reform bill, the rule that adults 26 and younger can stay on their parents’ health insurance plan.

But cheers were loudest any time the University was mentioned.

“It’s great that DU is put in the national spotlight, even if it’s only for a day or two,” said first-year student Danny Zimney-Schmitt, who came to DebateFest shortly after attending an Obama rally at a park near campus.

Nearby establishments also attracted students, alumni and community members Wednesday night. More than 100 people packed into Jordan’s Bistro and Pub near campus for a debate watch party. It was standing room only for DU alumna Lacey Henderson (BA ’11), but she didn’t mind.

“I just wanted to be a part of the scene,” she said, adding that the cold weather swayed her decision to go to Jordan’s instead of hanging out at the outdoor DebateFest. Plus, she noted, there was a lot of activity to take in, with an Occupy Denver protest happening right outside the pub’s doors.

Other campus favorites—such as Crimson and Gold Tavern, Spanky’s Roadhouse, Illegal Pete’s and Snarf’s Sub Shop—had their TVs tuned to the debate, with eager students watching.

Earlier in the day, DebateFest celebrated with food trucks, local rock bands and even a hot dog eating contest. But more serious issues were being addressed just a few yards away at Issues Alley, where booths were set up supporting different causes, including reproductive rights, environmental protections and marijuana legalization.

In brief remarks that afternoon, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper called presidential debates the “backbone of democracy,” and told the assembled crowd that they have a “social obligation” to talk about the election, to vote and to tell their friends to register to vote.

“We’re the center of the world tonight, and they’re all watching how we’ll do it,” he said. “Let’s do it right.”

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