Colleges on the Campaign Trail

College campuses are popular stops for presidential hopefuls during campaign season. Schools around the country are home to debates, rallies, and protests every four years for both Republicans and Democrats.

In many ways, a college campus is the perfect campaign stop. Filled with young adults developing their political ideologies, candidates can expect to fill a lecture hall whenever they arrive for a speech or a debate. From a practicality standpoint, colleges also make sense: with massive gyms, auditoriums, and football stadiums, schools offer enticingly large audiences to politicians looking to raise support on the stump. Colleges are also a convenient gathering spot in rural areas, where swaths of voters are otherwise scattered across small towns and communities.

While candidates visit colleges and universities big and small all across the country, there are a few schools that are particularly popular destinations. These are the schools that candidates visit to meet with students, hold rallies to fire up the youth vote, make major announcements, and hold debates. Whether because of their location in a swing state, or their campus-driven political or religious affiliation, you can expect to see a presidential candidate from at least one side of the aisle at these 10 schools.

RankNameDescription
1

St. Anselm College

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The New Hampshire primary is the first primary in the U.S. and the second contest of the election cycle after the Iowa Caucus. Because the primary is so early and success in it can move the needle on a candidate’s stock, just about everyone rolls through New Hampshire at some point. Candidates spend an enormous amount of their time and resources in the Granite State, and consequently, St. Anselm College has emerged as a popular hotspot for both Republican and Democratic candidates.

Ahead of the 2016 New Hampshire primary, 20 presidential candidates visited St. Anselm for televised debates, the “Politics and Eggs” forums, or other events. This Catholic liberal arts school is located in Goffstown, a suburban town directly next to New Hampshire’s largest city, Manchester. St. Anselm is home to the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, which regularly recruits presidential candidates and former presidents (and Barack Obama) to speak. The school has hosted early debates for the 2016, 2012, 2008, and 2004 elections.

2

Washington University in St. Louis

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Washington University is a private research school near the Mississippi River, and is home to about 14,000 students. This prestigious college is renowned for its rigorous academics and for regularly holding presidential debates on campus. While many schools host primary debates, Washington has also hosted multiple general election debates.

The school hosted the three-person presidential debate between Bill Clinton, Ross Perot, and George H. W. Bush in 1992, along with debates between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000, and Bush and John Kerry in 2004. The school is scheduled to host a 2016 debate as well. WashU also held a vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin in 2008 and was originally scheduled to have a 1996 presidential debate, though that event was eventually canceled.

3

Iowa State University

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This large land-grant, public research university is home to about 35,000 students, and often hosts traveling presidential candidates. Located in Ames, the 7th largest city in Iowa, ISU is an excellent gathering spot in an otherwise rural part of the state, and given Iowa’s relative importance in primary season, candidates from both parties regularly make a trip to the school.

Through the frequent campaign events or party debates hosted at Iowa State each election cycle, candidates have the chance to reach local caucus-goers as well as future national voters. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders visited the school during the early Democratic primary campaign. In 2015 and 2016, four Republican candidates had events at Iowa State, including Donald Trump and Marco Rubio.

4

Liberty University

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Founded by famous televangelist Jerry Falwell in 1971, Liberty University is one of the most conservative schools in the country, and a must-visit for Republican hopefuls. Affiliated with the Southern Baptist church, the school has become a place for prominent conservatives to give speeches and announcements, appealing both to the young students and to other conservatives nationally.

Republican presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney made speeches at Liberty University prior to the 2008 and 2012 elections. In 2016, many of the Republican candidates addressed Liberty University students, including Ted Cruz, who announced his candidacy on stage.

5

The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina

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This state-sponsored military school, usually referred to simply as The Citadel, is a popular destination for presidential candidates for several reasons. The school, which is one of six Senior Military Colleges in the U.S, has strong connections to the U.S. Armed Forces, making it a natural stop for candidates looking to discuss foreign affairs or veterans issues.

The Citadel’s location in Charleston also contributes to its allure. South Carolina holds the one of the earliest primaries in the country, and the first in the South. South Carolina’s Republican primary is particularly important too, as the winner has gone on to earn the party nomination every year since 1980 (except for 2012).

6

University of Iowa

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Like Iowa State University, the University of Iowa also benefits from the state’s position on the caucus and primary calendar. In 2016, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders held events there, as did three Republican Candidates: Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump. The University of Iowa has fewer students than Iowa State, but with an enrollment topping 32,000, it’s an important stop on the campaign trail.

7

University of New Hampshire

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Like St. Anselm College, the University of New Hampshire is a popular destination during primary season. UNH’s flagship Durham campus has about 15,000 students, many of whom eagerly turn out for rallies and events. Candidates have made a point of stopping at UNH for months prior to the early primary election every election cycle. The public land-grant university has been home to both Republican and Democratic debates in the past, and has hosted several events for candidates in recent years.

8

The Ohio State University

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The Ohio State University is home to nearly 60,000 students, making it one of the largest universities in the country. Naturally, the school has emerged as a popular destination in the swing state of Ohio. The state has voted for the presidential winner in each of the last 10 elections, and with 18 electoral votes in the balance, OSU and its surrounding area is an important campaign destination for presidential candidates.

9

University of Nevada - Las Vegas

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Like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, Nevada’s early primary draws plenty of presidential candidates into the state. The Nevada caucuses take place at different times for the Republicans and Democrats, but candidates from both parties flood the state after the Iowa and New Hampshire contests are over. UNLV, the largest college in the state’s biggest city, is naturally a frequent stump spot for politicians. Not just a primary stop, UNLV will also host a general election debate in 2016.

10

University of Miami - Florida

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The University of Miami is a private research school in Coral Gables, Florida. The U has hosted a number of election events, including a speech delivered by President Barack Obama during his reelection campaign in 2012, and a Republican primary debate in 2016. Visiting the University of Miami is a great way for candidates to reach Florida voters. With 29 electoral college votes, Florida had the third most votes after California and Texas. Florida has famously been an important swing state, most notably seen in the 2000 election.