Joe Hanel/Durango Herald
DENVER – A party atmosphere prevailed on the Denver University campus Wednesday outside Colorado’s first-ever presidential debate.
Thousands of people arrived on campus for DebateFest – an outdoor party with bands, food trucks, booths for political groups of all persuasions and giant screens for people to watch the debate.
Most of Colorado’s top politicians were there, including Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia.
“It is so good for a campus when people around the country get to see it portrayed at its best on a beautiful Colorado day,” Garcia said. “You can’t buy that kind of publicity.”
Actually, DU did. The private university paid the Commission on Presidential Debates $1.6 million for the privilege of hosting, in addition to other costs from putting on an event for 3,000 journalists and thousands of other visitors.
Gov. John Hickenlooper took to the main stage at DebateFest with a loosened tie and his jacket slung over his shoulder.
“What is happening here today is the backbone of democracy,” Hickenlooper told the college-aged crowd. “But it doesn’t make a worm’s worth of difference if you guys don’t go out and talk about it.”
When Hickenlooper exited the stage, a hot dog-eating contest took his place.
Across the street, things were more serious inside the debate arena and “spin alley,” where most journalists had their desks.
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, was among several members of Congress in the alley for television interviews.
“We’re kind of the epicenter of the election. It’s exciting to see the attention for our state,” Tipton said.