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On The Road: Roughing It Behind The Scenes at GOP Debates

The KUT recording studio at a campaign stop in Michigan.
Photo by Chelsea Hagger for KUT
The KUT recording studio at a campaign stop in Michigan.

Tonight is Texas Governor Rick Perry's eighth Republican primary debate. I will have been at seven of them.

Each debate is remembered by what happens on stage. What was said, what wasn't said, and whether or not one of the candidates messed up.

Reporters view them the same way. But we also can't help but compare the behind-the-scenes set up from debate to debate. 

Theone tonight in Washington D.C.isn't getting good grades so far. I'm not sure what the press room looks like  because broadcasters aren't allowed in.

Instead I'm in what's called the spin room. That's where the candidates and their campaign staff show up after the debate to tell reporters why they won. 

There are no tables in the spin room. So it won't be very comfortable working tonight. More importantly, there's no wireless internet.

No problem right? KUT was kind enough to get me an AT&T 4G wireless card. But unfortunately, we're in the basement of Constitution Hall. Not the best place to get a very strong signal, if you can get one at all.

Here's a rundown of how the other debates have stacked up behind the scenes:

September 7, Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California: The press room was inside an outdoor tent. There was a portable AC unit pumping cool air into the tent. But the high that day was 101 degrees, so it didn't help much.

September 12, Florida State Fair Grounds in Tampa, Florida: Press room was a giant convention hall on the fairgrounds. Air conditioned - a big plus.

September 22, The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida: I missed this debate, and of course it's the most legendary one so far this year for its opulent press room. The debate was co-sponsored by Google, which may be why there was an ice cream sundae bar and giant comfortable puffy chairs for reporters to sit in.

October 11, Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire: Even though it was still October, Dartmouth served a "Thanksgiving Dinner" to the press before the debate. In their defense, it was one day after Canadians celebrated their Thanksgiving. But there's nothing quite like watching a two hour debate on economic policy under the spell of tryptophan.

October 18, Sands Expo Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada: It was very hard to get from the parking garage to the press room without stopping at a blackjack table for a few minutes.

November 9, Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan: This one will go down as the "Brain Freeze Heard Round the World." But it was also the first big reminder to those of us working in Texas that other parts of the country get cold in the fall. There were 40 mile per hour northern winds during this debate. Some in nearby Detroit lost power because of it. 

November 12, Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina: This one was lots of fun actually. Wofford College has a cute little campus, which I toured around before the debate. The press was packed into a very small room, but the head of the South Carolina GOP made a point of walking around and shaking every reporters hand and thanking them for showing up. It's not something other debate sponsors have done.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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