As national media outlets flock to New Hampshire for the state’s primary this weekend, the contest will also provide some college students a unique opportunity to get first-hand look at the political process.
Colleges including American University, Rhode Island College and Syracuse University, offer classes that make attending and covering the New Hampshire primary a focal point. Students from each campuses above are gearing up to provide round-the-clock coverage of the presidential hopefuls during their respective whirlwind stays in the Granite State.
Matt Porter, a Syracuse University graduate student who is covering the primary as part of his political reporting class, said he envisions the atmosphere at the winner’s headquarters on the night of the primary to be akin to winning the Super Bowl.
Porter, who believes Mitt Romney will come away with the win in New Hampshire, said he flipped a coin with a classmate to determine who would cover him on election night. Romney is the frontrunner in New Hampshire after edging Rick Santorum by an eight vote margin at Tuesday’s Iowa caucus and picking up an endorsement from John McCain this week.
As part of the class, Porter and his 11 classmates will be up near dawn to follow the candidates until after 10 p.m. In addition to providing coverage for professional media outlets, the students will also continually update democracywise.syr.edu with content they produce throughout the day, said Charlotte Grimes, professor of the class.
Another professor who attended a New Hampshire primary as part of the same class years ago and is helping chaperone the Syracuse trip this year, told Porter he ended up malnourished and developed a lung infection due to the intensity of providing coverage for the primary.
Still, Porter is giddy over the prospect of breaking national news.
“This will rock my socks,” he said.
In preparation for the trip, Porter scoured media sites for the latest political news. “I’m a news consumer anyway but I kind of took it to the max.”
Not all the students headed to cover the New Hampshire primary were initially enthusiastic about national politics.
Many students who took Valerie Endress’ fall semester political communication class at Rhode Island College were disengaged from the political process at the outset, Endress said.
After being assigned one candidate to follow throughout the course, however, Endress said the students grew more eager and some even developed an emotional connection with their candidate.
Endress said a student who followed Michele Bachmann throughout the semester was upset when the Republican from Minnesota bowed out of the race after coming in sixth in Iowa.
Jen Collins, a Rhode Island student who will tweet as well as blog for an NBC affiliate in Providence, said she is disappointed that her candidate, Rick Perry, won’t come to New Hampshire. Perry will take his campaign to South Carolina after a disappointing showing in Iowa.
Endress, who has accompanied students on the New Hampshire primary trip since 1984, said she anticipates the students will cover between 500 to 700 miles over the course of the day, navigating from different campaign headquarters and anywhere else candidates are scheduled to make appearances.
“It’s just a circus while you’re up there,” Endress said. “It’s very fast-paced.”
Elaura Rifkin, a graduate student at American University, will also be attending the New Hampshire primary. In addition to live blogging, the students in his class will develop multimedia coverage.
Rifkin said attending the primary with the class will give her access to opportunities that she wouldn’t otherwise have.
“It’s a hot topic so everyone wants to be informed,” she said.
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