How are debate locations picked for the presidential debates? It’s not very strategic

Everything in politics seems symbolic, but sometimes, it’s just about what’s easy. When it comes to how debate locations are picked for the presidential debates, the Commission for Presidential Debates (CPD) is pretty straightforward. The locations for the debates are chosen well in advance of the actual debates. For the 2016 presidential debates, the locations were announced all the way back in the fall of 2015, when it still seemed like Donald Trump was a joke and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had a chance. We’ve come a long way since then. But the locations for the debate are chosen based on who applies and who can afford it, according to the CPD website.

The CPD, a non-partisan, non-profit that has been organizing the debates since 1988, takes applications and bids — often from universities and colleges, since they have the space, count as non-partisan sites for the candidates to duke it out over policy, and, according to the CPD, allow for student participation, because we all know college sophomores are so important to the electoral process.

The sites submit formal proposals, and the CPD sends people out to vet the places as well as “consult with members of the White House television pool and federal law enforcement in evaluating potential facilities.” Basically, the places have to be safe and large enough to host a media circus.

This year, they’re being hosted at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. The vice-presidential debate will be held at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.

Originally, Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio was supposed to host the first debate of the cycle and Hofstra University was just a back up. But this summer, the university ran into some cash flow problems. Somehow, Wright State looked at its books and found that they had an “unexpected $27.7 million budget deficit,” according to To host the event properly, the school would have needed to come up with millions it just didn’t have in the coffers. There were very little private donations and Ohio legislators threw in just $220,000. Ohio’s Montgomery County pledged $25,000 in direct funding, but Dayton and Fairborn counties offered nothing. The debate was supposed to cost around $5 million, but with extra security measures added in, the price tag went up to around $11 million. WSU ponied up $2.5 million on its own, but all of that went right down the drain.

If you’re a voter in Ohio or have anything to do with WSU, that’s kind of a crappy deal. They called it in July after their funding woes, and Hofstra took over the party. So the locations have little to do with the issues and are sort of stuck spending a lot of money for the privilege (if that’s what it is) of hosting the candidates. Hopefully it’s worthwhile.