By Jane Fusco
It has been 100 years since the first New Hampshire primary was held in 1916, but for 11 Rhode Island College students, it was a chance to see how the presidential election process begins.
Their trip to the New Hampshire primary campaign from Feb. 3-7 culminated months of intense political engagement, as part of a campaign course at RIC taught by political communication professors Valerie Endress and Kay Israel. The primary was February 9 with Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump outpolling their opponents.
When the course began last November, the students were assigned a candidate’s campaign to follow through news reports, blogs, and social media up to the New Hampshire primary. On the ground in the Granite State in the days leading up to the voting, they saw the candidates’ triumphs, pitfalls, and blunders before they reached the media and history books.
Ariana Morocco, 21 of Plainville, Mass., said this trip gave her a better understanding of the historical significance of the New Hampshire primary. “Knowing that we were in a place where history was made was incredible,” she said.
As part of their coursework, the students offered their observations, photos and videos from New Hampshire, and were posted on the NBC 10 website. According to NBC 10’s Scott Allen, Online News Producer, the students’ page with their tweets received over 3,450 page views. It can be viewed at http://turnto10.com/politics/ric-new-hampshire-primary.
Anthony Vega, 22, from Hartford, Conn., said that the interactions with the candidates showed how the presidential hopefuls answer impromptu questions. “News outlets portray them as serious, harsh, and detached candidates. However, in person, they seem genuine and have a great sense of humor,” he said.
The person behind the politician impressed Josh Faiola, 20, of Warwick. “I saw Jeb Bush cry, I saw Ted Cruz tell some jokes, and I even saw Carly Fiorina dance. I saw the hard work that goes on in a campaign office, and I saw how much pizza is consumed,” he said.
Valentina Agudelo, 21, from Cumberland said, “Being able to listen to the candidates in person also helped me get a better understanding of their stances on issues.” She said that some days, she’d follow the candidates to as many as five events.
Victoria Cordeiro, 21, of North Smithfield, said she was able to shake hands with Ted Cruz and other candidates, and sat about 10 feet away from Donald Trump at one of his rallies.
For Kim Morman, of North Kingston, the trip was more personal. She said she told a reporter from TIME that her choice for the next Commander-in-Chief would be someone who could protect the country and her family. “My husband is on his way back over to Afghanistan in a few months,” she said.
Endress said that even if the students didn’t necessarily support the candidate they were following, they still developed a personal connection and often became emotionally involved, getting upset at drops in polls, missteps, or proudly boasting about successes.
As a class, the students followed the campaigns on a private, dedicated Facebook page where they posted news articles, videos and commentary. Several national and international media outlets interviewed the RIC students, including TIME, The Washington Post, Reuters, NBC and ABC, and television stations from Sweden, France and Spain. Endress said that many of the students’ Snapchat posts went national and received over hundreds of thousands of hits. The most viewed snapchat was of Lindsay Graham with over 680,000 views.
Talking to the media, said Joseph Sherry, 21, of Rehoboth, Mass., tested his political expertise. “After it was over, I felt more confident about what I have learned in the course,” he said.
Sherry also said that the trip gave him an access point to observe and understand how political campaigns work. “This trip taught me to never make an assumption about a candidate because of a label, but instead learn about their policies and character,” he said.
For many of the students who travelled to the primary, this year will be their first time voting in a presidential election.
“I came into this (primary) thinking I knew who I was going to vote for, but to my surprise, that changed,” said Cordeiro.
Endress has been escorting politically engaged students to the New Hampshire primary since 1984, when Ronald Reagan was vying for his second presidential term against Walter Mondale. She said that she still hears from students that she accompanied on that first trip 32 years ago. “They say that the New Hampshire trip was a defining moment in their interest in politics.”
“I potentially met the 45th President of the United States while campaigning in the nation’s first primary,” Morrocco said.