Behind the Scenes at the GOP Debate

All eyes are on small liberal arts college as candidates attempt to sway undecided voters

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Nestled on a hilltop here, Saint Anselm College is the home of Saturday’s Republican presidential debate hosted by ABC News, Independent Journal Review and WMUR News 9. The college has a long history of being in the media’s national spotlight and is home to some of the most memorable moments in presidential politics.

The college is also home to the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, which houses a variety of political events all year long.

“When it comes to modern presidential debates, we’ve had more on this campus than any other campus in the United States,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. “We have had more visits from presidential campaigns on this campus than any other campus in the United States.”

A snowy Alumni Hall on Saint Anselm's campus
A snowy Alumni Hall on Saint Anselm’s campus

Over the past seven decades, Saint Anselm College has experienced hundreds of political visits and speeches. The college has a 50-year history of hosting presidential debates and primary events.

Every four years, the media descend upon the Granite State and the campaigns spend substantial resources and time here. The Saint Anselm campus becomes “America’s Classroom” in the election season. While there are other colleges in the state, of course, and even in the city of Manchester, Saint Anselm always steals the show.

The reason? The campus is centrally located, and it is full of young people who make great interns for the various news networks and campaigns.

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“Candidates, their managers, and the media all need to do things at a pace that is different than normal human interaction, and you need to accommodate that,” said Levesque. “And we do here at Saint Anselm.”

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In an interview with LifeZette, Saint Anselm College President Steven DiSalvo discussed the uniqueness of the campus and why it becomes New Hampshire’s main attraction every four years during the primary season.

“I told everyone, number one, it’s because we’ve been doing the debates for over 25 years. We’ve had every presidential candidate since Dwight Eisenhower on campus,” said DiSalvo. “It’s part of the Benedictine hospitality to serve and we do it better than anybody else.”

The spin room for the GOP Debate in Sullivan Arena at Saint Anselm College
The spin room for the GOP Debate in Sullivan Arena at Saint Anselm College

The college transforms itself into a media playground, with satellite trucks, cords, outlets, pop-up live-shot sets, lighting and high-profile television anchors scattered throughout campus.

What’s more, Fox News and ABC News are broadcasting a majority of their shows live from the campus, using various locations for their backdrops.

The spin room for Saturday’s debate, which is actually the college’s ice hockey arena, was transformed by Google into a state-of-the art media hub.

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Anyone who’s anyone fights to get credentials to cover the popular event — just a few days before the first-in-the-nation primary.

This debate is the last chance for the GOP candidates to make their case to undecided Granite State voters. The latest poll from Suffolk University/Boston Globe shows that 33 percent of New Hampshire Republicans could change their minds on who they will be voting for over the weekend.

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