DENVER — It’s only scheduled to last 90 minutes, but the first presidential debate of the 2012 election season has evolved into a weeklong political festival featuring rallies, parties, panels and lots of spin.
The face-off between President Obama and Mitt Romney is slated for Wednesday evening at the University of Denver, but Colorado was already in full debate mode Tuesday as Denver Mayor Michael Hancock hosted a conference on domestic policy while a university panel of specialists discussed Colorado’s role in the presidential race.
Following the debate, the president has scheduled a rally for supporters at Sloan’s Lake Park in Denver. Meanwhile, conservatives are planning to gather in Denver for CPAC Colorado, hosted by the American Conservative Union, an all-day event that undoubtedly will feature extensive post-debate analysis.
CPAC organizers added several names Tuesday to the all-star Republican line-up, including Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, and four of Mr. Romney’s five sons.
“CPAC Colorado will not only be the political event of the season, but also will be the conservative response to the first presidential debate,” American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas said. “It is crucial that voters understand what is at stake with just a month until the most important election in our lifetime.”
The Romney campaign has packed the schedule with a slew of high-profile events in Denver featuring the candidate and his surrogates. Mr. Romney blew into Colorado on Monday night with a rally at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, where he was introduced by perhaps the most famous man in Colorado, former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway.
“Today has been a very good day, not only because of what happened yesterday,” said Mr. Elway, referring to the Broncos’ win Sunday over the Oakland Raiders, “but because I get to introduce the next president of the United States, Gov. Mitt Romney.”
Mr. Romney told the crowd that the debates were less important than the stakes of the 2012 race.
“In my view, it’s not so much winning and losing — it’s something bigger than that. These debates are an opportunity for each of us to describe the pathway forward for America that we would choose,” Mr. Romney said.
The Republican candidate shook hands and posed for pictures with lunchgoers Tuesday while picking up a burrito bowl here at a Chipotle restaurant. His wife, Ann Romney, led a “Women for Mitt” rally at Hudson Gardens in Littleton a few hours later. The president and first lady Michelle Obama have stayed away from here this week and are expected to make their first Colorado appearance at the Wednesday debate and rally.
While tickets for the debate have been reserved for the campaigns, the political parties and the university, but there are no shortage of watch-parties being thrown by both parties. The University of Denver also is holding DebateFest, an all-day outdoor music-and-food celebration culminating with a live screening of the debate.
The morning of the debate, Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, is scheduled to host a pre-event rally for the Romney campaign at the National Western Complex in Denver. On Wednesday, the Heritage Foundation and Independence Institute are holding a battle of the policy wonks between four-member panels of conservatives and liberals.
Only the Democratic and Republican candidates are included in the debate, but several third-party candidates are planning to crash the party with their own events. Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein is slated to participate Wednesday in an Occupy the Debates march and a postdebate rally.
Ms. Stein and Rocky Anderson, the former Salt Lake City mayor and Justice Party nominee, have scheduled a “live debate talkback” on the Democracy Now website during the event.
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson plans to offer online commentary via his Twitter account and Google+Hangout.