blog: jamie-dupree

Behind the scenes at the Democratic debates in Detroit

Published: Tuesday, July 30, 2019 @ 11:44 AM

As 20 candidates for the Democratic Party's nomination for President go on stage over the next two nights in Detroit, this event has drawn hundreds of reporters from all over the United States, and the world, as Democrats continue the process of winnowing the field of hopefuls for their party's 2020 nomination.

CNN is the host for this second Democratic debate, which means the cable news network not only has to put on the two nights of debates, but also needs to focus on how to deal with hundreds and hundreds of credentialed reporters.

Content Continues Below

Here's a look behind the scenes:

+ I've covered nine campaigns for President. During that time, we have worked in some odd places along the way, but I think this is the first time that I remember a spin room and press filing center being set up in a bar for a debate. We're at the Hockeytown Cafe, which is a tribute to the hometown NHL team, the Detroit Red Wings. On the walls are photos of old Detroit greats like Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman, and many more. This is what it looks like from the outside.

+ Inside, CNN has attached a tent to the back of the Hockeytown Cafe, and that's where most of the reporters will watch the debate, and then wait for the candidates - or their top aides - in what's known as the "Spin Room." This area will fill up as the day goes on, and then we'll see how many candidates actually come across the street to speak to reporters after the debate. Sometimes the absence of a candidate can tell you a lot about how they evaluate their own debate performance.

+ Sometimes, the filing center and the spin room are in big arenas or halls. This debate, we have a work area that is a little smaller, so there are overflow areas for other reporters (like me). Some people will get to sit at the tables in the Hockeytown Cafe. Others will have a seat at tables set up down by the bar. Yes, I said, down by the bar. I don't think those charges are supposed to show up on my expense report. My seat has the orange star in the lower right. The bar, kitchen, and bathrooms aren't far away.

+ Remember, most reporters will watch the debate just like you will - on television. The debate is taking place across the street in the Fox Theater - yes, there is a bit of irony in that the CNN debate is being held at the Fox - as that makes for a few chuckles as reporters arrive.

+ What about the debate stage? Yes, it's across the street, and yes, most reporters will never see it, as only a handful will be in the room for the actual debate. It's a pretty nice looking place inside - maybe too ornate for a debate for President? All of those seats will be filled, which will lead to the usual questions about whether these debates should be conducted before a cheering (or jeering) audience or not.

+ Across the street in the parking lot, CNN has set up its live broadcast team with the Fox theater in the background. The weather has been mixed so far for the outdoor broadcast plans, as Monday brought some heavy rain showers for those TV folks who are doing live reports outside.

+ You might have noticed some tall light stands in the distance - that's the baseball stadium for the Detroit Tigers. I haven't been to a Tigers game since they were in the original Tiger Stadium - when I saw Mark "The Bird" Fidrych pitch the Tigers to a win in June of 1977. Unfortunately, the Tigers are not in town, as the team is on a West Coast swing. Long live Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey.

+ What about those reporters who can't fit in the Hockeytown Cafe? It won't surprise me if there are some scribes who don't get a seat inside, and instead look for a different seat. Well, down the street are a couple of local establishments - one dealing in tacos, and the other dealing in beer. I guess if that's your worst case scenario, it could always be worse.

There's more than one way to skin a cat when you're covering the race for President.

As for these two debates, they are very important - as a number of Democrats have not been able to gain traction in the race, and could well not qualify for the next debate scheduled for September in Houston.

Popular Stories