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January Term Students Get Political

Feb 10, 2016

Fullmer-1During January Term (J-term) 2016, 10 Randolph-Macon College students got a close-up view of the world of politics. The students were enrolled in Political Science Professor Elliott Fullmer's travel course, Retail Politics: Presidential Campaigning in the U.S., and they spent several weeks in and around Manchester, New Hampshire, witnessing firsthand how primaries are run. The trip was mentioned in the Manchester Union-Leader, the city's major paper.

From Classroom to Primary
Before jetting to New Hampshire, the class met on campus for a week, discussing the processes through which the Democratic and Republican parties nominate candidates for president.

"We also reviewed the dynamics of the presidential campaign process, including the structure of campaign staffs and methods used for targeting voters," explains Fullmer. In New Hampshire, students got a bird's-eye view of the nomination process.

"Candidates hold lots of public events in the weeks preceding the New Hampshire primary, while thousands of campaign operatives and volunteers come to the state working for various presidential hopefuls," says Fullmer. "The campaigning is notable for its 'retail' quality: many events are held in small venues and feature significant access to candidates. My students played an active role by volunteering for the presidential candidate of their choice. This included canvassing, making phone calls, coordinating events, and distributing literature on behalf of a campaign. The students all got terrific reviews from their respective campaigns, and several were invited to continue working for their candidate," says Fullmer.

When the students were not campaigning, they attended rallies and town halls throughout the state, where they had the opportunity to meet most of the candidates in both Republican and Democratic parties. Some of the students were able to ask questions of candidates during public town hall meetings.

"They asked a variety of questions: what to do about the 33 states that make it illegal for those with mental and cognitive disabilities to vote; whether the U.S. should sign onto the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; how to lower the burden of student debt; and how to bring jobs back to the United States that have been outsourced abroad," says Fullmer.

Caitlyn Ballou '17, a psychology major and political science minor, worked with the Marco Rubio campaign.

"For me, the highlight of the trip was getting to meet people who feel as strongly as I do about making him the next president," says Ballou. "Campaigning for Rubio and getting to meet him at the events was awesome." A travel course, says Ballou, adds a valuable dimension to the college experience. "Traveling to a new place and meeting new people is exciting—and being in New Hampshire during the primary season was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Kyle Cherry '18, a political science major and economics minor, enjoyed seeing the major presidential candidates and learning how the primary works.

"I did not realize how important New Hampshire is in determining the nominee for each party," says Cherry, who plans to go to law school. "Traveling with my classmates gave me a chance to make new friends while we experienced firsthand the presidential campaign process."

Derek Dittmar '16 is a political science major and communication studies minor who worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

"On several nights we had the opportunity to speak with candidates and political operatives," says Dittmar, who will enter Campbell Law School in fall 2016. "We sat around over dessert and coffee and spoke with the movers and shakers of the political world. It was a rush, and an honor, to be part of a world we’ve all admired from afar."

For Lauren Keiser '18, working on a campaign was the ultimate learning experience. The political science major volunteered with the Ben Carson campaign.

"I've been volunteering and interning for the Republican Party and various campaigns since I was a freshman in high school, so I thought I knew all of the volunteer essentials until one of the Carson staffers invited me to go 'tubing,'" she says. "I learned that tubing is similar to canvassing, but it is more widespread and is used for heavily targeted areas. It involves driving by each newspaper 'tube' and inserting campaign literature inside newspapers." Keiser's post-R-MC plans include more work with political campaigns. "My ultimate goal is to become a political consultant or Republican strategist," she says.

Kirby Struhar '18, a political science major, shares his fellow travelers' enthusiasm about the trip.

"As a student who is very much a political junkie, the highlight for me was getting to experience what campaign work is like: the passion behind voters and activists, the around-the-clock dedication from campaign staffers and volunteers, and overall what it takes to run a successful campaign," he says.