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Students go to New Hampshire for firsthand look at presidential campaign politics

About 100 students and faculty head to New Hampshire by bus this weekend to observe three days of intense campaigning before this crucial primary. Students will have the opportunity to attend events and possibly meet and interact with the candidates.  (Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin; AP)

Every four years presidential candidates, campaign volunteers and advisers, politicians and journalists flock to New Hampshire to rally voters days before they head to the polls in the nation’s first presidential primary.

And every four years since 2004, a group of Hofstra University students takes the drive north to watch retail politics — candidates attending local events to target voters — unfold in person.

“Classroom learning and experiential learning both have great value, but for political science students to come to New Hampshire as it becomes a circus right before the primary, it really enhances their understanding of American politics,” David Green, a political-science professor at the university, said in a phone interview from the Granite State.

Green started the tradition of visiting New Hampshire three days before its primary with just 10 of his students. Since then, it’s grown to 100 students signing up to take the trip with him.

Some students said they have been looking forward to the trip for years.

“I heard of the New Hampshire trip four years ago and now four years later, I’m excited to finally be here,” said Ryan Leighton, 21, a senior. Leighton of Valley Stream is majoring in political science, geography, public policy and global studies.

“It’s going to be interesting to see the memories we create here — it’ll be our very own snapshot of the American political forum as it stands right now,” Leighton said.

The students took off on two buses Saturday morning and will return to the Hempstead campus on Monday. Once they arrived in New Hampshire, they first heard from Republican presidential candidate Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, at an afternoon event. 

By evening, the students were headed to a dinner in Manchester where they were going to hear from the top Democratic presidential candidates. 

"I really just want to soak it all in and hear what everyone has to say," said Deandra Denton, 21, a senior. Denton, of Hempstead, is majoring in sociology and public policy. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and I hope to walk away with a broader understanding of how a primary works in New Hampshire." 

Youth voter participation has been on the rise, with thousands of young people organizing and marching for climate change and gun control in recent months. In 2018, voter turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds surged to 36%, from 20% in 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Both Denton and Leighton said they have long had an interest in politics.

"Especially growing up in Hempstead, I think I learned early on that there's an important need to be involved with what's going on in local politics," Denton said.

Leighton was looking forward to hearing how the candidates would rally the youth vote.

"You wouldn’t be a good politician if you didn’t tell a room of 20-year-olds to vote," Leighton said. "They’re going to have to rely on the youth vote and it’s going to be interesting to see how these candidates are going to present that issue to us."

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