At 'Life Of The Party' Presidential Candidate Forums, It's All About Keeping It Casual

Dec 14, 2015

Stay Work Play and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics hosted their third "Life of the Party" candidate forum last week.
Credit NHPR/Michael Brindley

If you’re hosting a party, what kind of music would you play? What kind of food would you serve?

Those are the types of questions Ohio Gov. John Kasich faced recently at one of the more unique series of campaign events during this New Hampshire presidential primary season.

“So what’s your question – who would I invite?” said Kasich, seemingly puzzled by the question of who he would invite to a party he was hosting.

“Who would you invite? What would a party look like if you hosted a party?”

“Well, what does a party normally look like? You show up, people stand around, they talk, you’ve got some music.”

Before Kasich arrives at this event last week, this isn’t exactly a party atmosphere; a few dozen young people mingle as the Rolling Stones play over the sound system at Saint Anselm College in Manchester.

Stay Work Play New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics are hosting their latest candidate forum, “Life of the Party."

“We did find artists that (Gov. Kasich) likes, so we put together a playlist based on those artists," said Kate Luczko, president and CEO of Stay Work Play, a nonprofit focused on keeping young workers in the Granite State.

She says at these forums, it’s all about keeping it casual.

“We’ve encouraged people to sort of come as they are, so if they work in jeans and a t-shirt, they should come in jeans and a t-shirt. We’ve encouraged our moderators not to wear a suit; to sort of come and be comfortable.”

So far, they’ve hosted Kasich, Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Gov. John Kasich at a "Life of the Party" forum.
Credit NHPR/Michael Brindley

She says the events were developed as an effort to get young professionals more engaged in the political process.

“To kind of get to know the person in a different way. So instead of the typical policy questions or really politically focused questions, let’s throw in some other questions, almost like a job interview. People don’t just ask you about how your skills exactly match the job; they want to know how you fit the culture and how you think about things and how you think on your feet.”

And that can mean candidates have to respond to questions they don’t have rehearsed answered for, like this exchange with Gov. Kasich:

“If you have a bucket list, what sort of items are on that bucket list?" the moderator asked Kasich.

“I’ve never liked that term," Kasich responded. "I guess I’ve never been a big fan of Jack Nicholson.”

Kasich never ended up answering the question, saying he's accomplished everything he wants to in life.

Marco Rubio was even asked for his thoughts on Star Wars.

"I used to hate Darth Vader; now I kind of feel a little bit sorry for him. Now I know what he went through to get to that point. And it's probably the most fascinating character in the whole movie because it started out with this individual with a tremendous amount of talent and promise. Then something went wrong."

Elyssa Alfieri, who chairs the Concord Young Professional network, says it’s in the candidates’ interests to court young voters.

“It’s an important voting base and it’s a really large voting base. It’s advantageous for these candidates to get at these young people, as well, because if they all actually came out to vote, they could make a huge difference.”

In the 2008 New Hampshire primary, about 30 percent of voters in both parties were under age 40.

“Young people, it’s on us to pay more attention. It’s easy to be complacent. We need to pay more attention to what’s going on," says Todd Fabian, who is one of those voters this year.

Elyssa Alfieri and Jessica Fogg Livingston at a "Life of the Party" candidate forum.
Credit NHPR/Michael Brindley

He’s director of the Concord Public Library, and his biggest campaign issue is not something you’d expect to hear from a 36-year-old.

“Social security and retirement. Especially for my generation and the younger generations, it doesn’t seem to be a hot topic. I think because it’s there and the candidates and their ages, they’re not as worried about it. But for our generation on down, I’m very worried about it and it’s just not been picked up much by the media.”

Fabian’s biggest fear is young voters are being turned off by the influence of money in politics.

That’s problem he doesn’t see going away any time soon.

“I wish they would limit the financing and kind of rein some of that in. I think you’d have fewer interests kind of pushing and pulling candidates different ways. I don’t envy them. I wouldn’t want to run for any of these positions because you’re going to upset someone and it’s tough to find any common ground."

So while voters like Fabian may not have learned what’s on Kasich’s bucket list, they did find out he’s a fan of Foo Fighters and Linkin Park.

And it wasn’t all light topics. Kasich also shared his thoughts on the drug addiction epidemic and the rising cost of college.

“Well these schools, let me tell you what’s going to happen: if they don’t control their costs, they’re going to be disintermediated. You know what that means? It means they’re going to become yesterday’s news.”

Organizers say invites are out to Democrats as well and they’re hoping to host several more candidates from both parties leading up to the February primary.