Student Primary Convention Serves Up Unusual Mix of Campaigning and Enthusiasm

Jan 4, 2016

In the lobby of the Radisson hotel in downtown Manchester, high school and college students find themselves thrust into a microcosm of the New Hampshire primary. Several presidential campaigns from both parties are here, along with a slew of political professionals, advocacy groups, and other card-carrying political junkies. Stickers, buttons, and email lists are everywhere. There are even cardboard cut-outs of several presidential candidates spread throughout the room.

“It’s a bit overwhelming walking through here. A lot of people have a lot of different ideas and things to say.”

That’s Abby Abramson, a high school student who came all the way from Connecticut. Like many other students here, Abramson is in an AP government class. Others, like Caleb Bennett, are political science majors in college. Bennett says he and a few friends are on winter break from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

“We just decided hey, this looks like a cool event to go to, to see what’s going on, so we all came up.”

Like most students here, Bennett says the main draw was the chance to see the New Hampshire primary up close.

“I’d like to hear some of the candidates.  I haven’t really heard them speak in person yet, so I think that’s going to be a good experience.”  

But while the attendees share a certain political enthusiasm, their political opinions fall along a wide spectrum. And this made for a somewhat unusual audience for the two town hall style events of the day.

Credit Jason Moon for NHPR

Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate, was stumping for Hillary Clinton when he got a wonky question about the Democratic National Committee’s state and local election strategy. Moments later, he was on defense after a pointed question about Clinton’s record on Benghazi.

“Many questions have not been answered regarding Benghazi and her own personal mishandles regarding classified media.

[HD] Ok. That’s a very interesting question. And the truth is it’s also based on something that’s totally untrue.”

Bernie Sanders, for his part, softened a few lines of his standard stump speech with apologies for their partisan edge. And among his most well-received lines was a joke about how the audience’s friends back home likely don’t understand their interest in politics.

“Why are you reading so much? Why are you studying so much? When you go out partying, you could do drugs, all kinds of great things to do. And I hope you understand that you are right and your friends are wrong.”

The convention continues for two more days this week, with many Republican presidential candidates scheduled to appear.