Before the NBC Republican Candidates Presidential Debate started, the massive,white tent in front of Theatre 1 buzzed with quiet murmurs from students enjoying their fruit, cheese cubes and soft jazz music.
Ron Paul supporters, media cameras and Occupy Tampa protesters outside with drums, horns and signs broke through the quiet of the watch party.
Though they weren’t allowed inside the theater, more than 1,000 people filled the tent outside to watch the debate.
The Student Government (SG)-hosted watch party held 800 sitting guests, with hundreds of people sitting and standing in, out and around the tent.
The party, which cost $20,000, was organized by SG Director of Government Affairs Lindsay Lewis after few
tickets were made available tostudents and the public for the actual debate.
Between 50 and 100preselected students,including some from SG, were chosen to attend the debate in Theatre I, but students and the public filed into the tent to watch the debate on a large screen.
Student body President Matt Diaz stopped by the watch party before the debate began, but was not present during the debate.
During the debate, students applauded for each candidate, and booed when upset,particularly at Rick Santorum. Protesters outside the tent were also the target of “boos” because they chanted while Ron Paul spoke.
Vincent McCoige, a junior majoring in philosophy and history, wore a Ron Paul T-shirt and waved an American flag before the debate started.
McCoige, vice president of Young Americans for Liberty, is a registered Republican and said he came out in support of Paul.
“I’m big on liberty,” he said. “I want everyone to be able to control everything that they own, control their own destiny, not to sound too clich. But I think that, no, I shouldn’t be able to tell you what to do and other people shouldn’t be able to tell me what to do as long as I’m minding my own business.”
The tent was half-empty by the time the candidates made their closing remarks at 10:30 p.m., but some stayed until the end to hear all they could from the Republicans.
Nancy Quillen, 60, and a USF alumna from the class of 1974, said she does not have a specific candidate in mind to vote for but came to see if the public was headed in the right direction.
“I wanted to find out what Romney was thinking, to tell the truth, because I really think he’s a front-runner,” she said.
During the debate, Quillen looked to Gingrich and Paul the most and was surprised at their stage presence, she said.
“Gingrich surprised me because he came across as pretty darn intelligent,” she said.
Yet the debate did not sway her vote.
“I’m still undecided,” she said. “Did it change my mind? No.”
Joana Rabassa, SG deputy chief of staff and a juniormajoring in mass communications, said providing security for the party required help outside of SG.
“SG has been workingreally closely with other entities, including Student Affairs. It’s been a collaborative effort,” she said. “It’s taken a lot more than just Student Government to put this together.”
Three University Policeofficers, 15 Sentry security officers and 10 STREET Team members patrolled the tent area during the party tomaintain safety in case there were disturbances.