Tuesday, October 18, 2011

NH Debates: Up Close and Personal

    Last week on Monday and Tuesday, I took a trip with my Media and American Politics class to New Hampshire to attend several candidates' town meetings and the Dartmouth debate.  The point of the trip was to see the relationship between media and politics on the campaign trail as well as exercise our First Amendment rights in questioning the candidates at the town meetings.  It turned out to be one of the best and most interesting field trips I had ever been on.
Two other bloggers, Tarah and Gabbi, and me in front of the St. Michael's bus!

    At 8 a.m. on Monday, the 60 students both from our class and from SGAC (Student Global AIDS Campaign) boarded the coach bus and van, both bearing the name of our college, and started on our way.  SGAC had a different mission, bird-dogging during the town hall meetings so they could get the candidates  to commit to funding the eradication of AIDS in foreign countries.  They dispersed their members throughout the audience, asking the same question, but framing it differently each time to try to make it one of the major issues for candidates.
    Our first stop was Tilton, NH, where we saw Jon Huntsman speak and answer questions.  We were told he was the most moderate GOP candidate.  My classmates and I made up most of his audience, so we were the ones mostly asking the questions.  We focused on a lot of social issues, like global AIDS and gay marriage, and he answered each of our questions as many times as we asked them.  Even though he seemed to dodge certain questions at times, he told us he would look into the issues about which he had limited knowledge so he could try to solve them if he became president.  Huntsman actually turned out to be my favorite candidate after the trip.

Dan Quigley, one of my classmates, asks Huntsman a
question during the town hall meeting in Tilton.  
Huntsman speaks to the audience in Tilton, NH.

Huntsman shakes hands of people in the audience
on his way into the town hall.

    Next, our class went to the Concord Monitor, one of the bigger news publications in New Hampshire, to speak to the online editor, Meg Heckman.  She spoke to us about how the coverage of the campaign trail has changed with the increased use of online media and social networks.  She said the main issue she has encountered is in verifying sources and information.  Since there is so much information online, it is difficult to find where some information comes from as well as distinguish between fact and fiction.  "Breaking news" can sometimes just be rumors in this day and age. 
    Our final event of the day was going to Mitt Romney's town hall meeting at the Hopkington, NH town hall.  Our classmates basically repeated what we did at the Huntsman town hall, asking about social issues and asking multiple questions about the same issue to push Romney to explain his positions.  The difference was that Romney and his audience (half of which was my classmates and the rest middle-aged and elderly people) began to get annoyed with us.  After one of my classmates asked the third question regarding his opinion on gay marriage, he refused to answer, saying he already answered the question, and moved onto the next question.  He seemed to avoid questions from anyone our age for the remainder of the town hall meeting. 
Mitt Romney addresses his audience in Hopkington, NH.

Romney during his opening remarks.


    In comparing Huntsman's and Romney's styles, it was apparent that Romney seemed much easier to make uncomfortable with questions.  Both candidates seemed more prepared to talk about economic issues rather than social issues.  The difference was that Romney seemed to have more people from the demographic he was preaching to in his audience, and he was trying to keep them on his side.  It almost seemed like our questions made him nervous and he was willing to do anything to keep the room on his side, including ignoring questions he said he already answered.  We made up most of Huntsman's audience, so he really had no choice but to answer our questions if he wanted to keep the room on his side.  

One of my classmates asks Mitt Romney about his position on
gay marriage.

    The next day we attended the debate, getting to Dartmouth early to meet journalists and campaign officials.  Among the most notable people we met was Fox Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron, who answered all of our questions from what his job was on the campaign trail to if he thought Fox news was biased.  I asked him whether he had a prediction as to who would win the nomination, to which he answered that he hasn't yet collected all the information that will help him make his decision so it was too early to tell.  He also talked about how the GOP candidates are people too and they are just as fallible as the rest of us.  The campaign trail was the prime place to see their flaws and decide which candidate would be the best president.  

Carl Cameron from Fox News speaks to our

The entrance to the debate at Dartmouth.


    Finally, we attended the watch party for the debate, which was right down the street from the actual debate.  An audience made up of mostly college and high school students was able to watch the debate on a humongous screen in the middle of the gymnasium.  The energy was fantastic, as people cheered and boo'd at certain parts of the debate.  The favorite phrase of the night seemed to be Herman Cain's "9-9-9" plan, and as the debate went on, there were very audible groans from the audience whenever he mentioned it.  After the watch party, Huntsman, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich came by and greeted the audience.  This is where I was most impressed with Huntsman.  Not only did he recognize our classmates and the name of our school when he saw us, he mentioned AIDS funding in his speech to the entire audience.  At that moment, we knew we made some sort of an impact on Jon Huntsman and possibly other candidates as well.  
Dartmouth gym where the watch party took place.

Newt Gingrich after the watch party.
Michele Bachmann greets watch party attendees.
    I am so proud of my class as we made the national news and were able to respectfully exercise our First Amendment right to freedom of speech and take part in the democratic process.  This trip was DEFINITELY worth it.  I learned so much about the different politicians as well as journalists who cover them.  Click on some of the links below to see some of the news sites that covered our participation in the town hall meetings: 
   Two of my classmates and I were even interviewed by USA Today College!
   If you would like any other information about the New Hampshire trip, or have another question regarding college life, academics, etc, feel free to contact me via email (emurray@mail.smcvt.edu), Twitter (LittleLizzie33) or Formspring (lizmurray3).  

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