ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The third Republican presidential debate takes place tomorrow in the liberal college town of Boulder, Colo., on the campus of the University of Colorado. A lot of students want to go, but tickets are scarce. Rachel Estabrook of Colorado Public Radio explains why.
RACHEL ESTABROOK, BYLINE: The University of Colorado is one of the most scenic campuses in the country set in the foothills of the Rockies. The debate takes place in a basketball arena that has 11,000 seats. Though 10,000 will be empty. CNBC, the network airing the debate, didn't respond to interview requests, but...
RYAN LYNCH: The way it was explained to us by CNBC is it - the event is meant for a TV audience, not so much for a live audience.
ESTABROOK: Ryan Lynch leads the Colorado Republican Committee. It gets 200 of the thousand-or-so seats.
LYNCH: To thank our committed donors, we have offered tickets. And I'd say it's a fairly even split between the donors and the elected officials on the Republican side here.
ESTABROOK: Lynch says the Republican National Committee also gets 200 seats. The presidential candidates each get some. CNBC will hand some out. And in the end, the University of Colorado gets 150 seats. That's not nearly enough if you ask senior Aaron Estevez-Miller.
AARON ESTEVEZ-MILLER: This undergraduate student body is over 30,000 people strong. Of course - and then you add the staff, the faculty, the graduate school.
ESTABROOK: So Estevez-Miller cofounded a group to push the school to request more tickets. CU tried, and that's how it got to 150. The school also set up a watch party for students, but Estevez-Miller isn't happy.
ESTEVEZ-MILLER: At that point, you know, they could be half a mile away in the Coors Center or hundreds of miles away in D.C., and it would make no difference.
ESTABROOK: University spokesman Ryan Huff doesn't see it that way.
RYAN HUFF: We think it'll be a great opportunity for the community, the economic impact, the branding for CU and for Boulder. You know, I think that will inspire some people to apply who maybe have never heard of our university before or want to learn more about it.
ESTABROOK: Huff says university officials didn't know the school would get such a small number of tickets when CNBC approached CU about hosting. Still, he says...
HUFF: You don't have to be inside the debate hall to really feel a part of this.
ESTABROOK: Huff also brushes off questions about why a Democratic stronghold would host this debate.
HUFF: You know, if you look at the voter registration, Boulder would lean left. But this was yet another event we could have to really broaden the kind of viewpoints for our students to hear.
ESTABROOK: Of course, most students won't hear those voices in person. This is the first election freshman Dylan Robinson-Ruett can vote in. He's registered Independent and is open to voting for a Republican, but he thinks the party and CNBC are missing out on a chance to connect with students.
DYLAN ROBINSON-RUETT: I mean, obviously, their focus is national, but, I mean, they're on our campus. And expect it to be more than just a facade because that's all we're being used as.
ESTABROOK: So while the candidates debate inside, Robinson-Ruett says he'll be outside protesting. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Estabrook in Denver.
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