Students hit the campaign trail in New Hampshire

Students hit the campaign trail in New Hampshire

reporter photo

MANCHESTER, N.H. — It was a mostly clear day, with temperatures in the upper-20s, as Quinnipiac University students John Hangen and Joshua Gorero embarked on the next assignment in their public service course — working for a presidential campaign days ahead of the state primary election.

Hangen, an 18-year-old freshman from Cheshire, and Gorero, a 21-year-old junior from Durham, were among 19 QU students, traversing the Granite State, knocking on doors, attending town halls, rallies and other events.

The students arrived in New Hampshire Friday, Feb. 7 and planned to leave Wednesday, the day after the Feb. 11 primary. The course, offered every four years, is taught by Scott McLean, a political science professor who led the trip.

Hangen and Gorero worked for Democrat Andrew Yang.

Their classmates worked for other candidates, including President Donald Trump, former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

They spent the bulk of their time knocking on doors with other campaign volunteers planned to attend a Trump rally Monday night in Manchester.

McLean began teaching the presidential primary public service course in 2000 when future president George W. Bush finished second in the New Hampshire primary behind Sen. John McCain. On the Democratic side, Vice President Al Gore beat Sen. Bill Bradley.

“The goal is that students would learn about grassroots politics,” McLean said. “... they will be meeting most of the campaign managers, and developing and organizing grassroots efforts in New Hampshire ... so they see the strategy and the science behind it. The other goal is to be able to critically assess the presidential nominating process in both parties.”

It is still early in the campaign season and the course.

“At this time in the semester we talk about media strategy, state strategy, and all the different strategies that go into a campaign,” McLean said.

Students learn about fundraising and logistics later. The goal of immersing them into the campaign is to give students  “active experiences,” McLean said.

Gorero said he hopes to have a better understanding of the political process “to see if we are able to reform it.”

For example, should states consider replacing primaries and caucuses with another system, like ranked choice voting, as Gorero proposed.

Hangen, meanwhile, said he hopes to have a better understanding, of how a a national campaign is structured.

Students arrived in a caravan of vehicles. After meeting with McLean, they split off to meet their respective campaigns.

Students don't have to agree on candidates, or share political views.

“We're all students of politics and can disagree,” McLean said. “The students really bond over this experience. They do have big debates. And they do still like each other. That gives me a lot of hope.”

Gorero agreed. 

“Each classmate has a different political affiliation. Yet, we're completely fine with one another. We joke around,” he said. 

McLean said in the course he also talks about professionalism.

“You're not just supporters of candidates and parties. I want you to learn what it's like to be professional campaign organizers,” McLean said.

McLean said the initial lesson, knocking on doors and talking to people, is an important one.

“The students are learning this slowly, all grassroots organizing is, is just the art of the conversation — being able to hold a conversation with someone, and finding out what they care about,” he said. “That's really the key to it. But it's the hardest thing to learn and the last thing we tend to master.”