Colorado Votes: The View From Inside the Debate Hall

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The University of Denver was in the national spotlight last night as it hosted the first presidential debate. A six-mile stretch of Interstate 25 was closed for more than four hours because of the event, as thousands of politicians, activists, and journalists converged on the DU campus. Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee watched the debate with scores of other journalists in the media filing center just outside the debate hall.

Here's a transcript of Megan's report for our "Colorado Votes" election coverage.

Debate Moderator Jim Lehrer: Good evening from Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado.

Reporter Megan Verlee: As the presidential candidates strode out on the stage in the Magness Arena, their faces flickered on dozens of big screens in a neighboring gym, where a horde of journalists bent over their laptops and notebooks. As soon as the debate ended, the candidates’ voices were immediately replaced by the babble of political surrogates, earning the room its nickname, Spin Alley. State House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, a Democrat, was ready to defend the president.

Mark Ferrandino: Mitt Romney, while he says a lot of good things, still doesn’t have a plan. He says, just trust me. And he flip-flops so much, how can you really trust him?

Reporter: Colorado’s House Speaker, Frank McNulty, a Republican, was happy with Romney’s performance, but he wished both candidates had talked more about what they’d do with Medicaid, the joint state-federal healthcare program for the poor.

Frank McNulty: From the Colorado standpoint, we know that Medicaid is expensive, we know that it’s growing at a rate faster than we can afford, so how do we craft a program that allows us to care for those Coloradans that are most in need and at the same time, live within our budget?

Reporter: Politicians didn’t fill all the seats in the hall. Almost 100 DU students were there too. Afterward, a group of them gathered to compare notes. Senior Zach Gonzales enjoyed hearing Romney challenge the president’s claims.

Zach Gonzales: I think there were a lot of things that President Obama's said and been critical of former Governor Romney of that frankly aren’t true. I think Romney did a great job of illustrating those points.

Reporter: But 18-year-old Catherine Middel-Katzenmeyer walked out of the debate disappointed with what she felt was just a lot of finger-pointing by both candidates.

Catherine Middel-Katzenmeyer: So I don’t necessarily think this single debate has influenced me to decide either way between the two candidates, but I plan on watching the rest of the debates, and I definitely feel like I need to do some more independent research.

Reporter: While the debate didn’t give her the information to make up her mind, like other students in the hall, she says it did make her much more excited about the election.

[photos: MVerlee/CPR]