Because of Smith’s extensive political connections, students get to learn firsthand from guest lecturers and “real world” practitioners of the political trade. Experts this year have included Bill Gardner, N.H. Secretary of State; Tom Rath, lawyer, former N.H. Attorney General, and adviser to numerous successful Republican election campaigns; Fergus Cullen, principal of Fergus Cullen Communications and former chairman of the N.H. Republican Party; James Pindell, WMUR-TV political director; John DiStaso, senior political reporter, Union Leader; and Laura Knoy, newscaster, N.H. Public Radio.
While their guest experts have been impressive, students in Smith’s class understand that their professor is also a formidable expert. On November 23, Smith, who is also director of the UNH Survey Center, released a WMUR Granite State Poll on the candidates. Since then, Smith, along with his political science colleague, Dante Scala, has been quoted in more than a thousand news outlets. These have included NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, NPR, CNN, and the Associated Press.
Exactly on the hour, Smith breezes into the classroom. Tonight, students will begin their presentations on the candidates, and clearly, they’re all a bit nervous. It’s show time.
Presenting on Newt Gingrich’s campaign are Camilla Cooper, a political science and communication major from Westford, Mass., and Jessica Kierstadt, a political science and communication major from Rochester, N.H.
With their PowerPoint for backup, Cooper and Kierstadt briefly outline Gingrich’s biography, campaign strategy, pitfalls, and fund-raising efforts. They confess that they were unable to volunteer for Gingrich’s campaign in New Hampshire even though they tried, mightily. They note that Gingrich is focusing much of his energy in South Carolina. However, they did get to meet the candidate at WMUR’s Manchester Café, a select venue for reporters.
Smith listens closely to their analysis. With a sense of humor, he asks, “Gingrich has been in politics a long time. He has a record. Do you know what he stands for?”
They both smile. Their answer: Yes, Gingrich is the consummate politician. It’s hard to figure him out. But, he’s got staying power.
Cooper took this class because she wanted to know what “the big deal was with the New Hampshire Primary!”
She writes, “It’s really opened my eyes to how important the whole campaign season is and New Hampshire’s role. Experiencing the ‘invisible primary’ [before it’s on television] is really cool. I think the most important thing to know about presidential elections is to listen to everyone. I would not have learned anything if I did not compare Gingrich to the other candidates.”
The issues most important to both her and Kierstadt are job creation and the economy. Cooper adds that she would like to see government restructured and military spending drastically reduced.
The 2012 presidential election will be their first opportunity to vote for a U.S. president. “We’re political science majors,” said Cooper. “So, of course we’ll vote.”
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