First Presidential Debate in Denver fails to impress students

By Kate Winkle and Elisabeth Willner

There were no fireworks at the first Presidential Debate at the University of Denver — not outside, and not in Magness Arena.


For students and others, the debate fell somewhat flat; as President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney sparred on domes

University of Denver students
DU students from both sides of the aisle listen to local band the Lumineers as they wait to watch the first Presidential Debate. About 5,000 students attended a special side-event called “Debate Fest” where live entertainment prefaced a live broadcast of the debate.

tic policy issues, neither gained a clear upper-hand for some members of the audience.

Ethan Brozka, a senior at the University of Denver, said the the debate was, if anything, typical and difficult to follow specifics.

“It was a lot of the same, a lot of noise, at times it was rather childish with the way that they were disrespectful to the moderator,” Brozka said. “For the most part it reinforced those who already had opinions and I doubt it changed many overall.”

At DU, where the debate was held, about 5,000 students gathered on the campus green to watch the debate live broadcast on large LCD screens. Some CSU students attended the debate through special invitation by political groups, but the crowd was made up mostly of DU students.

The candidates discussed key topics including healthcare, the role of government, taxes, the deficit and jobs.

“It was a lot of the same, a lot of talk, a lot of rhetoric and you didn’t really see enough direct attention to the issues,” said Hadley Morrow, a senior at DU.”…There was a lot of show, over talking and stuff. I have no respect for that.”

But even though much of the debate seemed superfluous to some students, others felt more connected to the candidates afterward.

For J.P. Griego, a junior at DU who was able to get a ticket to the actual debate, the political sparring provided a chance to see the humanity of the candidates.

“Being there live kind of opened up a new avenue I never saw from the candidates and I think showed that kind of personal side. These guys are real people and I was particularly pleased to hear them live…” Griego said. “It changed things and allows people there to relate to the candidates and hear them first rather than sound bites that they hear every day.”


Romney and Obama each had moments of triumph. Romney dug into presidential policies such as healthcare and Obama defended his policies and fired back at Romney’s proposed changes.

A key difference from past debates was a new format, intended to be more flexible to discussion. Moderator Jim Lehrer laid out the rules before the debate: there would be six 15 minute segments, with two minute answers followed by open discussion.

While the candidates took full advantage of the discussion space, they often went over time limit, leaving some viewers wondering whether Lehrer would reclaim his role as moderator and hold them to the format.

“This is typical stuff, this is what you expect and this is why debates are less meaningful than what they ought to be,” said CSU Political Science Professor John Straayer. “…If I was a student, I’d have a hard time finding anything in tonight’s debate that either inspired me or stimulated me to run in one direction or the other.”

Politics Beat Reporter Kate Winkle and News Editor Elisabeth Willner can be reached at