Classes weren’t canceled for President’s Day, but University of Denver students still had reason to celebrate on Monday.
Students packed into the Sidelines Pub at the Driscoll Student Center as the University prepared to showcase the new “Debate 2012” website, logo, and countdown clock in anticipation of the upcoming presidential debate set to take place at Magness Arena on the DU campus.
The Oct. 3 debate will be the first of three televised presidential debates next fall. The University of Denver was chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) as one of four out of twelve universities vying for a chance to serve as a host site.
The University officially submitted its request to host a presidential debate nearly a year ago on March 23, 2011 after the Board of Trustees approved the plan.
The geographic centrality of Denver’s location and its capacity to hold large events such as the 2008 Democratic National Convention likely played crucial roles in the CPD’s decision.
Seth Masket, associate professor of political science at DU, said that the first presidential debate in an election usually draws the largest television audience.
He said the first presidential debate to be hosted in Colorado comes at a time when the state’s political competitiveness in presidential elections is at an all-time high.
“Both parties are paying increasing attention to Colorado,” Masket said. “As our nine Electoral College votes are increasingly up for grabs by either party, we are widely seen as the gateway to the Mountain West, one of the few legitimately completive political regions in the country.”
The event is run by the CPD, and therefore not open to the public. A very limited allotment of tickets will be available for DU students, who must enter a lottery for the chance to win the coveted seats. Students can earn multiple entries into the lottery by attending debate-related events.
The bulk of the space in the arena will be reserved for members of the media, with more than 3,000 journalists expected to attend.
Vice Chancellor Kevin Carroll thanked the crowd for their enthusiasm on Monday and introduced student government leaders: Undergraduate Student Government President Sam Gerk and Graduate Student Association Council President Nicholas Bowlby.
Aside from just raising political awareness, Bowlby said he hopes the debate will have a lasting effect that will not wane after the election is over.
“The role of students as future seekers of employment and the importance of the 18-25 voting block should not be overlooked by politicians or students,” Bowlby said. “We can make a difference, and this is our opportunity to do so.”
Assistant professor of political science Peter Hanson said that for the first time in the history of the state, Colorado was a political “battleground” in the presidential election.
“For most of our history, we were safe for the Republican Party, but now our population is changing rapidly,” Hanson said. “We’ve had new people coming into our state and that’s changed the political dynamic. Now, this state is winnable by both parties.”
Hanson also encouraged students not to wait until October to start getting involved.
“Campaigns are fueled by people in their 20’s,” Hanson said. “You are the ones that go door-to-door, you are the ones who persuade voters, and ultimately, you are the ones who will win this race for one party or the other.”
University of Denver Chancellor Dr. Robert Coome spoke about the estimated audience for the televised debate, which is expected to draw over 200 million global viewers.
“Looking at all the news of the world over the last few months, we see that there are so many countries, so many people in the world who are struggling to find democracy. We have it,” Coome said. “It is this amazing treasure that we have in the United States, and this first presidential debate at the University of Denver demonstrates that better than any such event I can think of, so engage.”
Coome told students, “You have the extraordinarily good fortune to be here at that time. Make sure you engage in the process, make sure your voice is heard in this electoral event.”
The “unveiling” of the countdown clock was next on the agenda, but Carroll ran into technical difficulties when the projector displaying the clock’s graphic failed to turn on after the crowd counted down from ten.
“Technology is not our friend today,” Carroll said. “However, we will get this up and running in a bit and you can see the countdown.”
The clock — which ticks off the remaining days, hours, minutes, and seconds left until thousands of people descend upon the University campus for the debate — will run continuously in the Driscoll Student Center until the Oct. 3 event.
More information can be found at the new Debate 2012 website, at http://debate2012.du.edu/.