Colorado native and University of Denver alumna Theresa Muller stood outside the media entrance to Debatefest, checking and re-checking her list of approved media personnel as their bags were searched by security guards.
Set apart by her Pioneer red polo, University of Denver credentials and authoritative-looking clip-board, Theresa is an employee of the university whose preparation for Debatefest began at 2:30 a.m.
“I’ll be here at least until midnight,” she said, “and I’ll probably go down to the media filing center because those media people never leave.” She was referring to the media personnel in the debate hall itself, located in the Ritchie Center.
During the event, which lasted from 3 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 3, she was one of several university employees designated to monitor the media entrance. At two other entrances, similarly dressed employees monitored the almost 5000 students and community members who showed up to attend the event.
Debatefest, hosted by the university in conjunction with the national debate, was designed to help students and community members get involved with politics through a variety of venues. A large stage set up on the campus lawn provided a central platform for speakers and performers, but Debatefest was spread out across campus. With warm weather, the smell of Rocky Mountain Popcorn and numerous white booths, the event also felt more like a summer carnival than the epicenter of a serious political debate.
Dr. Robert Coombe, University of Denver’s chancellor, officially kicked-off Debatefest with a short address.
“It wasn’t me who made this possible,” the chancellor said. “It was the entire community of Denver.”
Chancellor Coombe also thanked Mayor Michael Hancock and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, saying that the city of Denver and the state of Colorado were tremendous partners in organizing Debatefest.
Following Coombe, Brian Olsen took the stage, captivating those in attendance with his finger-paintings of Mitt Romney and President Obama. Olsen, a native of Denver, also danced while painting.
“This thing that I do I call art in action,” he said, describing his artistic process. After Olsen, several musical artists performed for the large crowd of students, community members and media, including Zach Heckendorf, Nathaniel Rateliff and The Lumineers.
These performances were not the only attractions Debatefest offered. Hickenlooper talked to Debatefest attendees about their social obligation to vote, and numerous booths set up in an area designated as Issues Alley promoted state and national issues, policies and organizations. Pro-Romney booths neighbored Pro-Obama booths, anti-abortion booths flanked pro-abortion booths, and some booths stood alone. For example, one booth promoted Referendum 64, a proposal to regulate marijuana, like alcohol, in the state of Colorado.
Notable companies and radio stations also had booths, including Facebook, SiriusXM, KSL and C-SPAN.
What drew some of the longest lines, however, were the food venders. Ben and Jerry’s, Chipotle and Mustard’s Last Stand were just a few.
As the temperature dropped and the daylight faded, the crowd converged on the Green, the university’s main campus lawn and location of Debatefest’s central stage. There they stood together to watch the debate on large outdoor screens.
After the debate, it was only a matter of minutes before the large crowd dispersed, driven home or elsewhere by the cold.
When asked about Debatefest, Theresa answered, “I think it’s gone incredibly well.”
“There were obviously logistical issues,” she added, “but everything has gone off without a hitch.”