Tuesday night the Republican presidential hopefuls will gather in Milwaukee for their fourth presidential debate and they will continue a clear trend in the locations they've chosen for these events so far: They will be meeting in a very blue part of a state that went Democratic in 2012.
That trend will continue in December when the group meets in Las Vegas before the debates shift to primary states as votes begin to be cast. Here’s a look at the 2015 debate locales and the presidential votes in them in 2012.
President Barack Obama won all the GOP debate counties by double digits in 2012, with the exception of Ventura County, and that location was chosen because it’s home to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
These debate locations are about more than wanting to reach out to swing states. There are plenty of Republican-leaning communities in those same states that could host a Republican debate – Delaware County in Ohio, El Paso County in Colorado, Waukesha in Wisconsin. But in each of the cases above (again minus Simi Valley) the GOP chose to hold their debates in the liberal cores of those states.
It’s a schedule that looks like it is designed to take Red America on the road to Blue America. Why would the Republicans do such a thing?
Presidential politics is ultimately a game of margins in swing states. Most counties don’t swing between parties. Republicans win their strongholds and Democrats win theirs. The question is by how much? And the margins in the table above are very difficult for Republicans to overcome, particularly when you consider those Democratic counties tend be more densely populated so each point is worth more.
Furthermore, Republican party leaders understand that they must improve their standing with young people and in big urban areas, which have become increasingly difficult terrain for the party in the last few elections.
So consider the GOP debate calendar to be a bit of roadshow showing-casing, a chance to bring the Republican carnival to town and show the blue communities in these states what the party has to offer.
The question is whether this approach ultimately pays dividends for the GOP next November?
Time will tell, of course. But remember the debate schedule was crafted before the Republican field came under the influence of businessman Donald Trump, who has emerged as the choice of moderate primary voters. Meanwhile, some of the GOP best-known moderate voices – former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich – sit beneath the top-tier of candidates in most polls.
Regardless, the schedule marches on Tuesday night as the Red Republican big top pops up in deep blue Milwaukee for a night of debate and political cross-culture outreach.