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Third-party candidates were visible outside the event, albeit not inside. At DebateFest — a campus party featuring live bands, food and politics — students clustered behind a live shoot with MSNBC’s Chris Mathews and held up signs for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.

Mr. Johnson wasn’t in Denver for the debate, but his son Erik Johnson, a DU graduate who still lives in Colorado, brought a stack of signs and bumper stickers.

“There’s nobody who’s willing to stand up to the CPD [Commission on Presidential Debates],” Mr. Johnson said. “People are frustrated. The polls say people like to see different opinions. I’d like to see someone talk about gun rights and gay rights in the same sentence.”

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein did come to Denver for debate-related events, including an Occupy the Debates march down Evans Avenue, about a block from the auditorium.

“There is no difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney,” intoned one megaphone-wielding Occupy marcher.

Thousands of students and alumni gathered to watch an outdoor showing of the debates on the big screen, but the event was marred by a blast of cold wind that caused the temperature to drop from the low-80s to the mid-50s in the space of little more than an hour.

The suddenly chilly weather failed to dampen the spirits of Loriann Hinojosa, a DU student who wore an American flag in her hair and a cluster of pro-Obama stickers on her T-shirt.

“This has been really important for the school because it’s getting lots of attention, and Denver’s getting lots of attention,” Miss Hinojosa said. “I’m very excited. I was a little sad that I didn’t get a ticket to the debate, but I’m still having tons of fun seeing all the students and alumni.”