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Students get front-row seats to presidential primaries

Colleges aren't the only institutions operating on a four-year schedule- presidential politics follow the same cycle. As a result, virtually every Dartmouth student is on campus at some point during the fabled New Hampshire Presidential Primary. This fall, that meant being present for a nationally televised Democratic presidential candidates debate on Sept. 26, and Dartmouth students made the most of the opportunity.                         

John Harwood talks with students on the Green
John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent at CNBC and senior contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal, talks with students on the Green in preparation for an on-air interview. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

More than 170 students had seats in Spaulding Auditorium, where the debate was broadcast live on MSNBC. Another 1,500 gathered in Leede Arena at a student-run watch party. Many volunteered at debate-related venues from the press filing center to candidate green rooms, and still others covered the events as journalists or gave interviews to the hundreds of reporters on campus.

"The debate was an experience of a lifetime," says Mike Belinskiy '08, who served as the lead student coordinator. "It wasn't just a two-hour show, it was a political phenomenon."

Mike Heslin '08, president of the College Democrats of New Hampshire, agrees. "The campus was tremendously excited, and we are definitely looking forward to the rest of the primary season."

Greg Boguslavsky '09, chairman of the New Hampshire College Republicans, calls being at the forefront of presidential campaigning "a wonderful spillover benefit of going to Dartmouth." Boguslavsky, along with Courtney Merrill '09 and William Andy Reynolds '09, of the Dartmouth College Democrats, helped organize the watch party.

John Harwood talks with students on the Green
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Joseph Biden Jr. (D-DE) greets Dartmouth students at the watch party following the September debate on campus. (photo by Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09)

"The candidates stopped by after the debate, and there were a number of opportunities for students to meet with them and with others in the Democratic Party," says Reynolds.

Dartmouth's Rockefeller Center helps students engage in the political and policy-making processes and makes access to candidates possible. Andrew Samwick, professor of economics and director of the center, says he is grateful to "the more than 200 students who gave their time and energy as volunteers for the debate and the events that took place around it. They were perfect ambassadors for the College, and I have never been more proud of them."

Because of the partnership between students and "Rocky," as the center is known, a number of prominent candidates have already visited Dartmouth.

"At the Rockefeller Center, we seek to educate, train, and inspire students to become leaders in public policy," says Samwick. "We facilitate student involvement with political candidates and encourage them to take a leading role in organizing visits on behalf of the entire Dartmouth community."

Andrew Samwick
Andrew Samwick, professor of economics and director of the Rockefeller Center, welcomes the audience in Spaulding Auditorium prior to the debate. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Beyond candidate visits, Rocky offers a variety of ways for students to participate in policy-making. "We support student organizations that provide forums to discuss and debate important political topics," explains Ronald Shaiko, research associate professor of government and the center's senior fellow and associate director. "The public policy minor also engages students in the process. Our Policy Research Shop is a student think tank that serves the Vermont and New Hampshire legislatures by providing nonpartisan analysis. We also fund more than 50 student internships a year."

Politically active students of every stripe get involved. The College Democrats and College Republicans joined forces to advocate for student voting rights in New Hampshire and have cohosted non-partisan events.

For some students, college activism translates into real-world opportunity. Merrill is working as a staffer for Bill Richardson's presidential campaign this term. She says she didn't realize the value of the political connections Dartmouth provided until she became a student. She worked for Paul Hodes '72 (D-NH) during his successful Congressional run and looks forward to running for office herself one day.

Dartmouth, as the only Ivy League school in New Hampshire, is in a unique position to welcome the politically active student or to plant a seed of interest and nurture it. "Dartmouth's location was a huge factor in my decision to come here because it would put me in a state that holds power in the selection of presidential nominees," says Jennifer Bandy '09, vice president of the College Republicans. Democrat Reynolds agrees: "I don't know of another place that could offer such a fusion of opportunities."


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Last Updated: 5/30/08