Visiting college students get peek at first-in-nation primary process

JULIE HUSS/Staff photoA group of students from Principia College in Illinois paid a visit to Derry while visiting the state to learn more about the first-in-the-nation primary election. Students arrived in New Hampshire after spending time in Iowa to learn about that state's caucus process leading up to the presidential election.

DERRY — It was a study in politics, presidential candidates and just how both Iowa and New Hampshire tackle being first in line to gauge voters' views on who should win the White House.

And thanks to Londonderry resident Pollyann Winslow and other community support, a dozen students from Principia College had the chance to see both the Iowa and New Hampshire presidential primary season with a close up view.

Winslow, also a Principia alum, invited the group of students to stop by Londonderry while on a tour around the Granite State last week as they studied the primary election process, met with state officials and listened to as many presidential candidates as they could stumping in communities all over the region.

The visit also included a stop at the Derry News/Eagle-Tribune office in downtown Derry.

Prior to coming here, students spent several days in Iowa learning about how that state does its caucus process, working on campaigns and seeing candidates in action from only a mere feet away.

That's what makes the process special and important, especially here in New Hampshire, Winslow said.

"I support this program because I feel it is difficult for anyone outside of New Hampshire to understand how seriously New Hampshire citizens take the privilege and responsibility to vet candidates afforded by holding the first-in-the-nation primary," she said.

Winslow herself was a political science student while attending Principia and her daughter also attended the Elsah, Illinois college. She said there is so much national news resources available today and some may feel there is ample opportunity to learn about the candidates and what they stand for.

"However, here in New Hampshire we have the opportunity to ask candidates our own questions and not just hear or read what news reporters or debate moderators choose to ask," Winslow said. "We have the opportunity to tell candidates' what's on our mind, not what pollsters or Washington insiders think is on our mind."

Winslow said New Hampshire voters are lucky.

"Residents have a special opportunity to see the candidates' demeanor after a long day of campaigning," she said. "I know a candidate who lost votes because they cut someone off in a grocery store checkout line."

From the students perspective, it's a chance to get up close and learn.

"It's an opportunity a lot of schools don't get," said sophomore Delaney Gatine, adding having the chance to travel to Iowa and New Hampshire for a week of intensive political flavor was something she wanted to do. "Everyone is heightened in their political awareness. People are looking at the candidates."

Students interested in the project had to apply to be selected and represent many areas of study, not just political science.

The project, led by political science professor Dr. Brian Roberts, came to the area four years ago, also landing at Winslow's home for added Londonderry community support and information.

During the most recent visit, Winslow served up some traditional New England food and  introduced students to Londonderry officials including Town Councilor John Farrell and wife Sherry, also Londonderry Town Clerk, and also other notable residents with a plethora of historical and political background about the area including Andy Mack Sr., patriarch of the Mack's Apples orchards and farm.

In past months, Mack's Apples has hosted several candidates including Democrats Bernie Sanders and former candidate Kamala Harris.

Principia student Dana Cadey said seeing the election process in New Hampshire cast some differences from Iowa, but both states take their elections very seriously.

"New Hampshire voters pride themselves on their independence," she said.

Students also visited the State House in Concord and met with political science educators at the University of New Hampshire. They also offered views of their visit on social media.

"They are learning about the process," Roberts said. "It gives all of us a greater appreciation of the candidates, who runs the campaigns, and you see the human element of those who turn out to vote."

And against the bitter cold they discovered in Iowa and more seasonal temperatures here in New Hampshire, students said they were having a great time and learning a lot.

Senior Stephen Strong hails from Texas and said most of the candidates hoping to be president have a wide variety of views but a lot of talent to inspire the voters.

"You get to hear the candidates in a way you can't just by watching a debate," he said.

Kim Howland, a resident advisor for the group, said she loved New Hampshire.

"It's a beautiful state," she said. "People are so friendly and helpful."

For Winslow, she hopes the students left the Northeast with a better perspective of how it's done when presidential election time rolls around every four years.

And in the time remaining before the New Hampshire primary election Feb. 11, there will be more visits to local coffee shops, businesses and intimate home gatherings for candidates to make one last pitch on why they are electable.

"I hope the students take away an understanding that a lesser-known candidate with good ideas can be heard in a small geographic state with dedicated news coverage for even small campaign events," Winslow said. "Social media offers useful new ways to disseminate information, but nothing can take the place of face-to-face interaction."

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