With millions of viewers tuning in to the first presidential debate here between President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney, speculation is rife that a number of critical issues facing the U.S. today, including gun control and voter suppression laws, may get sidestepped entirely by the two White House hopefuls.
It may seem especially odd if the question of tighter gun regulations is skipped over in the State of Colorado, venue of two of the worst incidents of gun violence in recent history — the Aurora theatre shootings earlier this year and the Columbine school massacre of 1999.
However, that appears fairly likely considering the total blackout on any mention of Aurora by representatives of both the Democratic and Republican parties here.
To get a sense of whether local people affected by the shooting felt differently and whether the proximity of the shooting site, in the suburbs of Denver, to the debate site, may put some pressure on the candidates to bring up the subject, this correspondent visited Aurora on the eve of the debate.
To put it mildly, there was not a single visible sign reflecting what is undoubtedly a painful memory of the July 20 event, in which James Eagan Holmes (24) is suspected of killing 12 and wounding 58.
The Century 16 cinema, where a heavily-armed Mr. Holmes sprayed moviegoers with bullets during the screening of the latest Batman movie, was cordoned off and a lone policeman in a squad car waved off anyone who approached. Nearby a deserted parking lot of Kaiser Permanante, even the one memorial that had been erected to honour the victims had been removed, ostensibly due to “bad weather anticipated”.
The scene at Aurora captures some of the essence of the national debate, or lack thereof, on gun control. Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney were silent on whether new gun regulations were required after the Aurora incident, and even after a second episode that had a ripple effect in India — the shooting of Sikh worshippers at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
In briefings with media here, both Republican and Democratic party representatives conveyed their strong support for the U.S. constitution’s Second Amendment protecting Americans’ right to bear arms.
A second issue that may find scarce mention in the debate is the “voter suppression” controversy, which relates to a number of States, including Pennsylvania and Florida, having enacted laws requiring stricter voter ID standards which may disproportionately affect minority groups such as Hispanics and African-Americans, generally thought to be Democratic voters.
However, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney may find it hard to ignore this vital election issue after a judge in Pennsylvania ruled on Tuesday that the State’s law requiring voters in the swing State to produce photo identification at the polls could not take effect for the November 6 election.