The First Republican Debate
Host: Fox News
Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio
The Stagecraft: A giants sports arena was a perfect fit for the spectacle that featured the top 10 Republican presidential hopefuls duking it out for the first time. It was a stage that asked: “Are you not entertained?”
The Politics: One of the candidates will return to this very stage in July to accept the nomination at the Republican national convention, which is held in the always-key swing state of Ohio.
The Second Republican Debate
Where: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, California
The Stagecraft: The candidates stood in front of Reagan’s Air Force One. The effect was visually stunning, reminiscent of the giant 747 that comes on stage in John Adams’ opera “Nixon in China.”
The Politics: Reagan is typically the most name-dropped person at Republican debates, so it was only appropriate that the candidates gathered in his library in front of his plane.
The First Democratic Debate
Where: Wynn Hotel, Las Vegan, Nevada
The Stagecraft: The most generic of any debate. The Encore Theatre was turned into what felt like an super-sized CNN set, but with fewer candidates on stage than the Republican events, it felt more intimate.
The Politics: The Wynn is one of the unionized hotels on the Strip, so this was an easy call for Democrats. Nevada is also a key swing state in the general election and a key early voting state in the Democratic primary.
The Third Republican Debate
Where: University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
The Stagecraft: The university setting meant the stage was a little less glamorous, with seating that recalled a giant lecture class. The 10 candidates stretching across the stage gave it the widescreen feel of watching an old movie in Panavision.
The Politics: Another key general election state, Colorado will be important to the eventual nominee, but the Republican candidates were on somewhat unfriendly ground in the liberal college town.
The Fourth Republican Debate
Host: Fox Business/Wall Street Journal
Where: Milwaukee Theater, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Stagecraft: Another generic setting. The stage featured some interesting Mondrian-like backdrops and a nice curved lectern setup, but it was otherwise a forgettable backdrop.
The Politics: This one must have stung for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who dropped out of the Republican primary just weeks before the debate.
The Second Democratic Debate
Host: CBS/KCCI/Des Moines Register
Where: Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa
The Stagecraft: With only three candidates on a stage in a much smaller venue than the other debates, the feel was much closer to the kind of grassroots events the candidates engage in than the more highly staged debates.
The Politics: Another general election swing state and also the first to vote in the 2016 primary. The Iowa voters in the audience were almost as important as the people watching on television.