Republican Presidential Debate

Scenes from Boulder on debate day

Editor-in-Chief Jordyn Siemens and some of her staff at the CU Independent as they prepare to cover the GOP debate on their campus, Oct. 28, 2015.
Everett Rosenfeld | CNBC

What matters to Colorado?

A key swing state, Colorado will prove an important test for the Republican hopefuls squaring off in Wednesday's debate.

But what matters to the state's voters? Democratic organizer and 20-year Boulder resident Cathy Carlson said that issues like gun legislation and women's health are key battlegrounds for the electorate. Who's winning those battles, however, is regularly shifting.

"It's definitely a pendulum," Carlson said. "We shift in five- to 10-year swings."

After the 2012 mass murder in Aurora, Colorado, state lawmakers tried to tighten the rules on firearms, but this created a backlash that energized the conservative electorate, she explained.

Another key issue for the state is climate change and clean energy. In fact, Boulder boasts the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which produces some of the leading climate science findings.

Still, what people care most about, she said, is what's happening in their daily lives, and that often comes down to economics.

On the Republican side, Carlson said she expects U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida to be well -received.

"To the extent you can judge a candidate by the debates, Marco Rubio has a message that would resonate," she said, adding that his youth would play well in a state like Colorado.

For the Democrats, Carlson said she thinks former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will ultimately win the state's backing.

While many in hyper-liberal Boulder say they plan to vote for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont, Carlson said she thinks Clinton will play well in the rest of the liberal electorate.

As a state, Colorado has a long history of supporting women — it was one of the frontiers for suffrage — and this could play well for Clinton's campaign, Carlson said.

Telling the students' debate story

Students at the CU Independent — the student publication at the University of Colorado, Boulder — are gearing up to chronicle the stories of how their peers are experiencing Wednesday's GOP debate.

"I'm excited to tell the story of the student," CUI Editor-in-Chief Jordyn Siemens said Wednesday in the group's one-room office.

Surrounded by laptops, audiovisual equipment and framed awards, Siemens and her team were outlining their wide-ranging coverage for the day. As national attentions are turned to Boulder, the student journalists are grappling with protests, demonstrations, individual candidate events and even an expected visit from Democratic candidate Martin O'Malley.

While national outlets will be eyeing the same events, Siemens said her team plans to take a unique approach to coverage.

"We're not trying to analyze policy as much as national media will," she said. "Our aim is to focus on our student perspective ... the student who skipped class to join a rally, the student who might be inspired to get involved in politics after learning about the event."

In fact, she said students have become noticeably more politically active on campus — perhaps in response to the debate.

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