DENVER — It was a big surprise for him; after all, it was a random selection from thousands of his peers.
“I thought it was just a show-up-and-sit-down kind of a thing,” Sam Garry said. “But then I found out it was completely different.”
Garry never thought he would be standing on stage at the Ritchie Center for a mock debate the day before the presidential debate. Gonzalez is a part of the student senate for undergraduates at the University of Denver. He is a senior at the university studying business. The faculty needed students to be stand-ins for demonstration on the stage; they randomly asked him and two others to take the place of the presidential candidates and moderator.
“I really just thought they would be testing the lighting and the sound for the debates,” Garry said. “But was I wrong.”
For Garry, the debates turned out to be much more. Garry not only earned tickets to be inside the debate hall during the debate, but he made the front page of the New York Times for being a stand-in moderator for the run-through on Tuesday.
Like Garry, the University of Denver campus was buzzing on Wednesday as presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney tried to win over the undecided voter support from Colorado. The political candidates discussed their differences on domestic policies including issues like the economy, job creation, tax reform and health care.
Obama attacked Romney for not having specific plans to reduce the national deficit. Obama focused his debate around his achievements as president and challenged the leadership abilities of Romney.
“Part of being a leader is telling people what you are going to do; you have got to have a plan,” Obama said. “At some point, the American people have to ask themselves if the reason that Gov. Romney is keeping all these plans secret is because they’re too good.”
Romney said that his solution will be found, but an “across the aisle” effort from both parties to gain a bi-partisan understanding will be necessary.
“The reason I am in this race is because people are hurting in this country,” Romney said. “Democrats and Republicans both love America. We have to bring people together. I have done it before, and I will do it again.”
Romney attacked during the debate with noticeable enthusiasm, showing his stance on Obama’s supposed un-done promises. He said he saw the “middle-income Americans are being crushed” by the Obama administration.
Romney closed the debate by promising to fix the debt and job crisis in America.
“I will restore the money lost to Medicare,” Romney said. “I will keep America strong, and I will bring Americans jobs.”
Obama left the decision up to voters, as he pointed out that both he and Romney have very different paths and visions for America.
“It is ultimately going to be up to you, the voters, which path that we take,” said Obama.
According to a CNN exit poll after the debate, 67 percent thought that Romney won in the debates. According to political analyst Cate Stolworthy, the debate was an upswing for Romney’s campaign.
“I think the easiest way to determine the winner in the debates is to look at who accomplished their goals, who accomplished the most,” Stolworthy said. “I think that in this case it was Mitt Romney. This debate carried a lot of weight for Romney; he needed to do well, and he did.”
The pre and post debate was filled with rallies, festivals and protests. Colorado is one of the swing states, with many undecided voters. Stolworthy said she felt that the debate may have an actual effect on Colorado voters.
“I think it is unique for Denver voters because they got to be a part of the debate,” Stolworthy said. “They got to have an intimate experience with it, and in terms of swaying the ‘swayables,’ Mitt Romney did a great job.”
Although neither candidate made major mistakes while debating, many in attendance saw the debate as beneficial to both campaigns.
“The debate was good for Obama, but I think that Romney will benefit from it more,” said Jeff Rosenbalm, a University of Denver student majoring in political science.
Sam Garry was on stage the day before the debate, acting as monitor until he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and there stood Jim Lehrer, his replacement. And the rest is history.
“Very politely, Lehrer told me I had done a good job and then he replaced me,” Garry said. “He is a very genuine guy. I thought I was getting the hang of being a debate monitor until he took over.”
The next presidential debate will be held on October 16 in Hempstead, N.Y.