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CU Denver election party put in worldwide spotlight

Gathering at Associate Professor Tony Robinson's house covered by BBC World Service

11/7/2012
CU Denver students are interviewed on election night by BBC reporter Lerato Mbele

By Chris Casey | University Communications

DENVER - As more swing states turned blue on the CNN Electoral College map, the cheers grew louder in the home of Tony Robinson, chair of the Political Science Department. Jia Meeks, a political science major at the University of Colorado Denver, shook his head.

"I am very much in the minority," said Meeks, a Republican. "... It's something I've dealt with the three years of my collegiate education, and it's not something I'm going to stop championing for just one night."

And, especially, a night when his comments would be broadcast to millions of listeners across the globe. Three journalists from the British Broadcasting Corp. set up shop in Robinson's house to cover the results and tap the human perspective from battleground state Colorado.

Associate Professor Robinson, PhD, said he holds an election night party every two years. When the BBC inquired about putting a few reporters in his south Denver house, Robinson rolled out the red (and blue) carpet.

"I got a call from them and they said, 'We want to do something on election night to capture the energy and spirit of an American election. What idea do you have?'" Robinson said. "I said, 'Well, I don't know, but I'm having an election party. Do you want to come to my election party?'"

The BBC journalists -- Lerato Mbele (South Africa), Nuala McGovern (Ireland) and James Fletcher (Australia) -- periodically interviewed guests at the party for live segments on its Radio 4 "election special," which was heard primarily by the domestic British audience. From 11 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. the students were interviewed for the BBC World Service "Newsday" program, which is an international program that airs across Europe and Africa.

As people in England awakened to their tea and crumpets, they heard students from Robinson's Elections class assess the U.S. presidential election.

Mbele, a BBC anchor, said the BBC would be interviewing plenty of pundits about the returns, "but what you really need is to understand how the ordinary American thinks and feels, so the human aspect is always very important to us at the BBC," she said. "And, because this election was always going to be a very tough call, we needed to understand how the changing demographics of Colorado as a state might influence the results."

Sarah Sargent, a senior political science major at CU Denver, said she enjoyed the atmosphere at Robinson's house, which, while mostly Democrat-leaning, had a broad perspective of views among the 50-plus guests.

"I enjoy the political debate and kind of hearing everybody's opinions. He's a fun professor," Sargent said. "And the BBC -- that's another reason I came. That's a unique opportunity. How many times are you going to get that?"

At one point Mbele interviewed Sargent and Meeks together. Sargent explained that President Obama supports her views on women's issues and gay marriage, while Meeks said the Romney-Ryan ticket offered better approaches to the economy and growing U.S. debt. While the interview took place inside a smaller room, the crowd in the living room, responding to CNN's 9:18 p.m. announcement of an Obama victory, chanted "Obama!" "Obama!"

Even the Libertarian ticket had a supporter in Michael Green, a junior political science major at CU Denver. Green said he would have preferred to vote for Gary Johnson, but because the Libertarian candidate had no realistic shot at winning, he voted for Romney. "I'm really worried that the world's going to break out into major warfare, and I want different control of the military, Defense Department and State Department, but no one is talking about that, which I find frustrating."

Robinson said his election night parties usually wrap up around 11 p.m., but with the BBC needing interviews to continue until 1:30 a.m., "I had to cajole (students to stay later) a little bit because it is late."

Even though the party was slightly hostile territory for Meeks, he enjoyed the atmosphere and engaged in frequent debates. Meeks said that college Republicans are a dying -- if not dead -- breed.

He was glad to be able to share his views with the world.

"I'm half-Chinese and half-German," Meeks said. "If you look at Asians in this electorate, they're breaking massively for Obama. I think it's important for the world to hear that there's a young Asian-American Republican that still exists in the United States, that circumstances allowed that to happen. And that's the beautiful thing about America."

(Photo: CU Denver students Jia Meeks and Sarah Sargent are interviewed on election night by BBC reporter Lerato Mbele at the home of Associate Professor Tony Robinson.)

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Contact: christopher.casey@ucdenver.edu

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