When CU-Boulder hosted October’s 2016 Republican Presidential Primary debate, CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla sat front and center.
Carl Quintanilla (PolSci’93) crisscrossed the country with John Kerry during his 2004 White House run, broadcast live from the Olympics in Beijing and London and won an Emmy for his reporting on Hurricane Katrina.
On Oct. 28, when the CNBC anchor got his first chance to moderate a presidential primary debate, it happened in a place he knew well: Coors Events Center, where he’d attended basketball games as a CU-Boulder student and alto saxophonist in the marching band. The event was also a landmark for the university, which was playing host to a presidential-level debate for the first time.
Just after 6:15 p.m., Quintanilla kicked off questioning of the 10 top-polling Republican candidates, asking them to admit their weaknesses “without telling us that you try too hard or that you’re a perfectionist.”
The responses were by turns evasive, frank or amusing — Carly Fiorina’s confession that she’s been told she should smile more got laughs when she delivered it with a theatrical pause and a beaming grin.
Over the next two hours, Quintanilla, co-moderators Becky Quick and John Harwood and guest questioners sought to probe the candidates’ views on a broad range of topics while reining in digressions, asides and feisty cross-talk and also side-stepping sharp barbs tossed back at them. Taxes, visas for skilled foreign workers, student debt, the federal budget, gun control, fantasy sports and recreational marijuana all came up.
All ten top-polling major Republican Primary candidates participated in “Your Money, Your Vote,” their third debate, including Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and Fiorina. [See inside cover photo, “NOW.”] Four lower-polling candidates — Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal — debated beforehand.
Co-sponsored by CNBC, the Republican National Committee and CU-Boulder, the debate drew a horde of journalists to campus, roughly 500, including the familiar faces of Dana Bash (CNN), Chris Matthews (MSNBC), Chuck Todd (NBC), Andrea Mitchell (NBC) and Major Garrett (CBS). The television audience for the debate was estimated at about 14 million.
A few Democrats showed up, too, including Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The debate drew an unprecedented number of political and media luminaries to CU.
For Quintanilla, who as a student lived for a time in Williams Village and worked part-time for the Boulder Daily Camera, the debate was no leisurely visit to his old stomping grounds.
He arrived in Colorado two nights before the debate, joined in a work meeting at his hotel, then met with CU political science students the next morning before diving into final preparations. He planned to catch a red-eye back to the East Coast after the debate ended.
“We’ve got to be on the air Thursday morning,” he said in an on-the-run interview, referring to his regular morning “Squawk on the Street” financial news program, which broadcasts from New York.
Related story: Now – October 28, 2015
Quintanilla’s CNBC colleague Joe Kernan (MCDBio’78) was in Boulder, too, interviewing candidates singly on a custom-built set in Coors’ George Boedecker Jr. Court, which was converted into a staging area and press pen known as the “spin room.”
“I’ll say this much: Everyone should moderate a debate, once,” Quintanilla Tweeted of the experience. “It’s like yelling at the TV from home, except they talk back.”
While a vocal contingent of CU students lamented, in the weeks before the debate, that more of them couldn’t attend — the university had just 150 tickets to parcel out — Meagan Mahlberg (Mus’08, MA’11) had no complaint. The opera singer was asked to sing the national anthem at the start.
It was an honor, she said, one she hoped might lead to a gig at, say, the White House of a future president.
By night’s end she’d come pretty close: “I did end up getting somebody’s card that wants me to sing at the Capitol.”
Photography by Glenn Asakawa