Young Voters Met the Candidate in Fall '07 At New Hampshire College Convention
St. Mary's College students Jacqueline Caminiti ('09) of Ijamsville, Md., graduate Elizabeth LeBlanc ('08) of Lynnfield, Md., Austin Lyman ('10) of Birmingham, Ala., Molly McKee ('10) of Hyattsville, Md. (standing left to right), and Samuel Birnbaum ('09) of Sharpsburg, Md. (seated right), along with assistant professor Todd Eberly (seated left), met with Delaware Sen. Joe Biden (seated center) during his quest for the White House at the College Convention 2008 in Manchester, New Hampshire, in November 2007. Biden was recently selected as the Democratic vice presidential nominee. (Submitted photo)
ST. MARY'S CITY, Md. (Aug. 29, 2008)—Five St. Mary's College of Maryland (SMCM) students had no idea they were shaking hands with a possible future vice president last fall when they attended the 2008 New Hampshire College Convention. The group remembers being impressed by the fact that the senator stayed for several hours after the formal program to talk with the young voters.
At that time, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Delaware) had his eye on a bigger prize, yet he took the time to meet the students and discuss issues of concern to them. Now they can say that they not only interacted at the convention with candidates and media covering the New Hampshire primary, they also got to talk directly about policy with a man who could become second in command.
"Biden's speech was a completely different experience than any of the other candidates we had heard. He came down from the stage to really talk to all of us. I gained so much respect for him after he spoke," said Molly McKee ('10) of Hyattsville, Maryland.
"Hearing Joe Biden speak was the highlight of the College Convention," said Jacqueline Caminiti ('09), of Ijamsville, Maryland. "I was completely impressed by his candor, as well as his willingness to engage with the students in attendance. I still can't say that I am committed to Obama or McCain 100 percent, but I am pleased and excited that Biden's name will be on the ticket."
After liking what he heard from Biden at the college convention, Austin Lyman ('10), of Birmingham, Alabama, was disappointed at the outcome of the candidate's election bid: "I was disheartened by Biden's early dropout in the primaries after an encouraging speech to us in New Hampshire about his dedication to veterans and his focus on improving the Veterans Administration. Now that he's back, I'm inspired to be more engaged in the election."
Todd Eberly, assistant professor of political science and faculty advisor for the trip remembers meeting Biden as well, but thinks the senator's years as a Washington insider may work against him with some voters: "The first rule of any vice presidential selection is 'do no harm' and on the surface, Biden seems like a good and safe choice-after all the Democrats have no better expert on matters of foreign policy. But there may be a downside to the selection. With all of Biden's expertise comes years as a Washington insider and that may undermine Obama's theme of change. Biden has been in Washington longer than John McCain and is only six years younger than McCain. This could make it difficult for the Obama/Biden team to portray McCain as out of touch or part of the Washington establishment."
"The Biden selection may also frustrate committed supporters of Hillary Clinton who felt that she had earned a spot on the Obama ticket," Eberly said. "The real question now is what will John McCain do? Will he play it safe and choose someone like Mitt Romney? Or will he prove himself the maverick with a less conventional selection like former Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman? If not Lieberman, I would not be surprised if McCain were to pick Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin or Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. With the selection of Biden, Obama provided McCain with a tremendous opportunity to reach out to disaffected Clinton supporters."
Foreign policy was an issue about which the students wanted to hear more while at the college convention. Some came away disappointed, claiming that they heard nothing ground-breaking from the candidates. Ground-breaking or not, Biden's foreign policy expertise is now seen as a real plus for the Obama ticket by some political analysts. "Biden has the political and life experience, as well as his foreign relations expertise, whereas Obama has energy and a younger outlook to help generate change. Together I think they are a very strong presence
," said McKee.
The students who traveled to New Hampshire in late November and early December of 2007 won the trip after entering an essay contest sponsored by the college's political science department and the Center for the Study of Democracy. Of the students who won, two are Republicans, two are Democrats and one is an Independent. Although the front-runners didn't attend the college convention, the group got an up-close look at how grueling the campaign process can be and the toughness required to stay on the campaign trail.
College Convention is a recent addition to the primary election process and was timed to coincide with New Hampshire's presidential primaries. College and high school students from across the country were brought together to interact with presidential candidates, media personalities, issue experts and activists. The delegates gathered at the Radisson Center of New Hampshire to listen to and ask questions of presidential candidates. Independent and third-party candidates also took part in the sessions.