DENVER — Political buffs and young people looking for free T-shirts crowded a Denver college campus Wednesday in advance of the first debate between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.
A free concert by The Lumineers and a pep talk by Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am contributed to a festival-like atmosphere around the University of Denver, where the debate was to take place.
"'Yes we can' doesn't mean just to vote," will.i.am told the crowd. "It means 'devotion.'"
Few had tickets to watch the debate in person. School officials planned to air the debate on outside monitors for folks who couldn't get in.
Political activists lined nearby streets hours before Romney and Obama arrived. The political theater included female Romney supporters wearing short shorts and holding signs that said, "What War On Women?"
A woman walked around dressed like a package of birth control pills to point out that Obama was the better candidate for women seeking birth control.
Supporters of the Occupy movement planned to protest the debate, saying it was designed to divide people and divert attention from solving the nation's root problems. Green Party presidential candidates Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala planned to join them.
Stein and Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson were to participate in an alternative debate to be broadcast by "Democracy Now!" from downtown Denver.
Not everyone around the debates seemed interested in politics. A group of college students who live nearby were raising money selling "Obamanade" and hot dogs, while children too young to vote came to see the musicians.
Many roads were closed around the campus. A heavily traveled six-mile stretch of Interstate 25 in southern Denver, which passes near the DU campus, was closing for the evening commute. The closure forced commuters to seek out alternate routes or to take mass transit instead. Many decided to work from home or call in sick.
Watch parties were planned around the state, including one for about 300 people at the new History Colorado Center. The debate was to be followed there by a town-hall style discussion involving the audience and a panel including former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, a Democrat, and former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, a Republican.
The Romney campaign was hosting 49 debate watch parties around the state. The Obama campaign was holding watch parties at restaurants and field offices in Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Grand Junction, Durango and Pueblo.
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