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Students take a primary interest in presidential politics


From left: Hanna Squire, Brooke Donnelly, Elite Williams, Danielle Steinmetz, Zach Jonas, Professor Zoe Oxley, Andrew Cahill, Nick D'Angelo, Ian Schwartz and Ben Engle, in New Hampshire.
From left: Hanna Squire, Brooke Donnelly, Elite Williams, Danielle Steinmetz, Zach Jonas, Professor Zoe Oxley, Andrew Cahill, Nick D'Angelo, Ian Schwartz and Ben Engle, in New Hampshire.

As contenders for the Republican presidential nomination set their sights on next month’s New Hampshire primary, a group of Union students are in the Granite State to watch the drama unfold.

The nine students, along with Zoe Oxley, professor of political science, are part of the College’s first New Hampshire Presidential Primary mini-term. In addition to formal coursework, the group is spending three weeks in and around Manchester, N.H., where they are attending candidate events, volunteering with campaign organizations and meeting with political and civic leaders who play a role in the first-in-the-nation primary.

It was Oxley’s idea to create a mini-term in New Hampshire, a major testing ground for presidential hopefuls. Four years ago, Oxley was the advisor for John Tomlin ’08, a political science major who spent his break in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina covering the presidential campaign from a young person’s perspective. Another thesis student, Matt Gerien ’04, was in New Hampshire over winter break for the 2004 primary, traveling on press buses and interviewing members of the media.

“I knew from John’s and Matt’s experiences that people would welcome us here in New Hampshire and that students would be able to volunteer for and see in person the candidates,” said Oxley, who hopes to repeat the mini-term every four years. “I was certain that New Hampshire would be a good learning environment for anyone interested in the nomination process.”

The Jan. 10 primary comes one week after the Iowa caucuses and can make or break a candidate. Since 1952, victory in New Hampshire had meant a ticket to the White House, though the last three presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama) all finished second in the primary.

Right now, New Hampshire appears to be a two-person contest between former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Since arriving in New Hampshire, Union students have marched in a Christmas parade with Jon Huntsman’s daughters, visited with New Hampshire’s secretary of state and enjoyed dinner at political commentator Arnie Arnesen’s house. They’ve also attended countless campaign events and seen some of the candidates, including Romney, Huntsman, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. The group, which represents various political ideologies, also toured the newsroom of the New Hampshire Union Leader, which garnered national attention for its endorsement of Gingrich.

“The goal of the mini-term is to immerse students in real life politics,” wrote Ian Schwartz ’12, on a daily blog maintained by students and Oxley. “To say the least, the experience here in NH has accomplished, nay, exceeded that goal so far and our involvement in the primary is only going to get more intense.”

Other students on the trip include Andrew Cahill, Ben Engle, Brooke Donnelly, Hanna Squire and Danielle Steinmetz, all from the Class of 2012; Elite Williams ’13; Nick D’Angelo ’14 and Zach Jonas ’14.

It hasn’t been all politics and no play for the group, which wraps up the mini-term Dec. 17. After a hectic first week, Schwartz and Oxley participated in the Santa Claus Shuffle, a 5k run in downtown Manchester that featured many runners in Santa Claus suits. Schwartz, a member of the cross country team, finished in fourth place and first in his age group, numbers any political pollster would embrace.

“For a short moment…we forgot about Democrats and Republicans,” Schwartz wrote on the blog. “Instead, the citizens of this great city became one: a large group of running Santas. Contrary to popular belief, Manchester isn’t just about politics and being first in the nation.”