Colorado takes center stage this week when the GOP presidential hopefuls hold their third debate Wednesday at the University of Colorado Boulder. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was also recently on campus. As Bente Birkeland reports, CU students say all the activity is engaging younger voters ahead of the 2016 race.
Freshman Eliza Leeson is a Humanities major. She was among the roughly nine thousand students who attended the Bernie Sanders rally in Boulder.
“I loved seeing so many people, there was a lot of it was cool. It was my first time in that type of situation. I really like what he says. I think he’s connecting to the younger population.
Sanders’s message of income inequality and attacking big banks on Wall Street also resonates with religious studies graduate student Scott Meyers. He said the campus has – what he calls – Bernie fever.
“Literally every single friend of mine on Facebook, the vast majority are posting about Bernie Sanders and how enthusiastic they are about his candidacy,” said Meyers.
But enthusiasm for the GOP presidential candidates and debate on the liberal CU campus is less palpable. Leeson said she leans Democratic and is not a fan of the frontrunner, Donald Trump.
“What I think about Trump is everything he says seems a little ridiculous to me.”
Mobilizing younger voters will be key to any electoral win, and both parties will be spending a lot of time in swing states like Colorado.
“The fact that this debate is in Colorado, suggests that Republicans do see this as an important state; and they will be trying to contest it,” said Seth Masket an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Denver.
Masket said he thinks Trump is bringing people into the political fold much earlier than they would be otherwise.
“Through his celebrity status and his somewhat outlandish behavior. For people who don’t necessarily have any interest in supporting him but are really just excited by his unusual approach to campaigning,” said Masket.
Freshman Kendall Bonvicin is an environmental engineer and newly unaffiliated voter. Whether it’s Trump Sanders or Clinton– she hasn’t decided on any candidate.
“I’d say I‘m fairly conservative on most topics but because I am an environmental engineer on that topic I‘m fairly liberal. This is the first year I’m ever able to vote so I’m like wow, I need to pay attention and think about these things because my opinion counts,” said Bonvicin.
Democrat Scott Meyers wants candidates in both parties to pay more attention to his top issue, reforming campaign finance laws.
“Our candidates are beholden to special interests, or unions or whatever side of the issue you happen to fall on. I just think idea that money is speech radically disenfranchises the vast majority of Americans.”
As for the debate itself, Professor Masket says he’s curious to see if a Colorado specific topic comes up such as the growing Latino population or Pot.
“The marijuana legalization issue which has come up in previous debates and this is a state where that is a relevant issue, where legalization has been moving ahead pretty quickly and is already a pretty important part of the state’s economy,” said Masket.
Even though many students interviewed for this story were not Republicans or didn’t follow politics regularly– many said they would be watching the GOP debate out of curiosity. There have been protests over the limited numbers of seats available for students and faculty to watch it in person.