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KUNC's guide to Election 2012 in Colorado and the Colorado vote. Additional guides include a detailed look at Amendment 64, Amendment 65, and a look at Amendment S. You can find our archive of national election coverage here.

Presidential Debate Gets Mixed Reviews from Coloradans

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Nathan Heffel

Coloradans turned out for watch parties across the state Wednesday night, as President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney squared off in their first debate at the University of Denver.

Several hundred people came to one of these watch parties, this one was sponsored by Rocky Mountain PBS at the Colorado History Museum. The mostly older crowd paid ten dollars and mingled beforehand with drinks and munched on cheese and crackers.

Credit University of Denver / Flickr - Creative Commons
Flickr - Creative Commons

Many in the audience, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all wanted specifics. Specifics on the economy, and education, and even on social issues like abortion.

One of the younger members of the audience was Jason Cockren, a teacher. Jason came into the debate undecided. He was asked if anything either of the candidates said possibly persuaded him one way or the other.

“Before tonight it didn’t seem like education was a hot topic. Leaning toward adding more math and science was a big focus for me. I was really happy to hear that, that was a positive note on the Obama side for me.”

While Jason left the debate still undecided, a few people felt that Romney came out swinging. Polished and in attack mode. Kelsey Martin, an Obama leaning independent, was hoping to see the interactions between the candidates going into the debate.

“I did think that Mitt was a little bit more aggressive. So it was interesting to see how Jim Lehrer had reacted in moderation. I think it will be interesting to watch the rest of debates and how they interact with each other going forward.”

This was a highly anticipated debate across the country, many voters wanted more specifics from both candidates. Energy is one of the hot topics in Colorado and it came up during the debate, but we really didn’t hear anything new.

It was one area where more might have been expected from both of the candidates, especially given the setting of energy rich Colorado. Another topic of particular interest to a western audience as well – but given no mention - was immigration.

Laura Stevens, of Lakewood, figured many issues of importance to Coloradans didn’t get tremendous attention because the economy here isn’t as bad off as in other states, such as her native Ohio. Both candidates were focusing their pitches to people in other places.

“The one thing that I wanted to see addressed here that they never did attack was water. In this neck of the woods, what are we going to do? Because right now, my water bill is almost equal to my electric bill.”

Credit University of Denver / Flickr - Creative Commons
Flickr - Creative Commons

No play given to water, immigration, little to hydraulic fracturing and that’s not necessarily a surprise. During the Democratic National Convention in Denver back in 2008 there were similar criticisms that uniquely Colorado issues weren’t being given much attention on a national stage.

“I have no real nerve tissue left when it comes to feeling miffed because somebody left the West out,” said Patty Limerick, certainly an authority on western issues as founder of CU’s Center of the American West.

“Really, 2008, you could see a national moment of thinking, ‘oh that’s an important place there, Colorado, and certainly with the convention and that recognition that there are citizens, there are voters, and maybe a bellwether quality in national politics.”

It may really not be a maybe. Colorado with its changing demographics and large block of independent voters certainly is a bellwether. The fact that this first debate, arguably the most important and likely the most watched debate of the three, was held in Colorado wasn’t an accident.

Both candidates have been paying attention to Colorado, which is seen as a crucial swing state in a tight race. The consensus among the audience at the watch party was that neither candidate messed up. Their reaction was that the President was low energy and merely adequate and Romney beat expectations and performed well.

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