Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate in Boulder served as a magnet for groups hoping to attract attention. Some were backing candidates. Some were pushing other political agendas. A few were hoping to make a quick buck.
All added a theatrical air to a grass field across from the Coors Events Center where the debate was taking place, next to a line of TV trucks. And while the Republican candidates inside were vying for votes in the purple state of Colorado, Boulder's true blue roots were on full display.
Starting with puppets -- 12-foot-tall papier mache figures of Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump.The puppeteers' ire was mostly directed at prominent conservative campaign funders, the Koch brothers, and their ties to the Republican candidates.
The group behind the puppets, Progress Now, even took their messaging to the skies. Two small planes circled overhead, towing banners criticizing big money in politics.
"We basically feel pretty strongly about our democracy being sold to the highest bidder," said Aaron Black with Progress Now.
One of the largest contingents on hand was a group favoring more gun restrictions. Moms Demand Action passed out free orange T-shirts. Colorado is notorious for two of the nation’s worst mass shootings, the Columbine and the Aurora theater attacks. Advocates, like 12-year-old Maura Benedick, said they want to hear more from Republican candidates about gun control.
"I want to be able to be a regular 12-year-old girl and I want to go to the movies and go to school without fearing for my life," Benedick said.
Issues weren’t the only reason people were there. Dozens of supporters of Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson gathered outside the debate hall to hand out copies of his book. Mick Hartley, who lives in Monument, said his frustration with Washington drew him to Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who has never held elective office.
"I think people are finally starting to realize that he is the real deal. He’s not a professional politician. And professional politicians have done a pretty good job of destroying this country," Hartley said.
A college freshman used similar logic to describe his support for another candidate: Donald Trump.
"He’s a great guy," Hunter Thompson said, while drawing a attention wearing a red hat with Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again,” star-spangled pants and boat shoes.
"People are staring at me. Either they have a disgusted look on their face or people are just laughing," he said.
Another man taking it all in stride was Bruce Simpson of Hot Springs, Arkansas. He handed out thick rubber wristbands with the American flag on it. Some had “Trump” on them. But he quickly added he wasn’t taking sides: "We made Hillary bands last month."
"I’m a capitalist," he said, adding he couldn’t resist coming to Boulder for the presidential debate, hoping like many here to drum up some business.