The final Common Ground of the year examined a variety of hot topics that are top of mind for voters in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, including immigration, the economy, and abortion.

The event, titled “The State of the Race: Biden v. Trump and the Road to the White House,” featured John Feehery, a partner of EFB Advocacy, a lobbying and strategic advocacy firm, and Aleigha Cavalier, the vice president of mobilization and campaign management at Precision, an integrated strategy and marketing agency that works to change people’s minds and move them to action. Steve Scully, the senior vice president of communications at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), moderated the discussion.

John Feehery and Aleigha Cavalier chat with students in the American Political Process class.
John Feehery and Aleigha Cavalier chat with students in the American Political Process class. Photo: Nancy L. Ford

The debate opened and closed with abortion. Feehery stated that “abortion is the Achilles heel of the Republican Party, and he noted that a candidate needs two pieces of the same puzzle to win the electoral college: people who agree with you and people to vote for you. According to Feehery, abortion fulfills the latter, and that can be a good or bad thing depending on a politician's position. Both strategists were well aware of this, reflecting the omnipresent nature of abortion within the minds of Democratic and Republican strategists alike. Cavalier noted the importance of reproductive rights and her belief that this issue would create huge turnout for Democrats. It seemed to both speakers that abortion was the largest weakness of the Republican party and the greatest strength of the Democratic party.

When asked to speak on abortion, Feehery declined to do so, stating “I have my opinions and she has hers. Both are strong and will not change.” The audience’s reaction to this was hushed – Cavalier’s was not. She and the moderator both agreed this is the exact purpose of Common Ground, though they did move on from the disagreement. Through my work with Common Ground and in my life, I have realized how prevalent this kind of logic is, especially when it comes to polarizing topics. This is why the entire premise of Common Ground – to have the hard conversations and then find the path forward – is so important.

This is why the entire premise of Common Ground – to have the hard conversations and then find the path forward – is so important.

Feehery made clear that he believes the central issue of the election is the economy. If the economy was doing well, Biden would have the advantage; if not, Trump would. Feehery said he believes that this is the central reason why Trump won the 2016 election. “He [Trump] spoke to the economic insecurities and general insecurities” of Midwesterners. Cavalier nodded and suggested that a key strength of Trump was his ability to connect with his citizens.  

Common Ground

Common Ground will return in fall 2024 to tackle climate change, congressional differences, and more. 

Common Ground Events

Each Common Ground event ends with a Q&A period open to all attendees. Among the first to speak was a staff member who spoke honestly of his home, family, and voting habits. He spoke up to share his frustration with the Democratic party for forgetting people like him. The speakers responded clearly and compassionately, especially Cavalier. She noted their common origins – a small Rust Belt town with a bust of JFK on the mantle and deep democratic values – and spoke of how a future path for the Democratic party lies in recovering the loyalty and support of individuals like himself and his family, who boast a combined 150 years of union membership.

This question prompted the kind of discussion I always hoped to be a part of when I joined Common Ground as an ambassador. I am eager to hear and learn from others’ lives and viewpoints. This moment, while inherently political, was an honest demonstration of the ways that identity and lived experience builds political identity, and not the other way around.

It is my hope for Common Ground that this initiative will continue evolving to reflect this essential truth. I believe that this is one of the few paths my organization can take to embody our high ideal: facilitating respectful and civil discourse with those that do not share your identity or worldview.

The College thanks Mary Helen and Robert Morris ’76, P’16,’17; Eve Niquette and Charles Pohl, P’20,’25; and Lori and David Hess ’77 for their generous support of Common Ground.

Common Ground

Common Ground is Hamilton’s multi-format program that helps prepare students for active citizenship. Designed to explore cross-boundary political thought and complex social issues, Common Ground brings respected thought leaders to Hamilton to participate in small classroom dialogues and large event discussions.

Common Ground and Bipartisan Policy Center partnership announcement

Bipartisan Policy Center Partners with Hamilton

This collaboration will connect Hamilton’s Common Ground program and Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) University Partnership Program to encourage civil discourse and bring bipartisanship outside the beltway through robust intellectual exchange. Hamilton is the first liberal arts college to partner with BPC.

From left: Moderator Mimi Geerges, Rep. Matt Cartwright ’83, and former Rep. Steve Russell

Common Ground Panelists Discuss Guns, Climate Change, Reproductive Rights

The latest Common Ground event on April 2 provided a wide-ranging discussion of divisive topics that are on the minds of voters as the Presidential election approaches. Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Cartwright ’83 and former Oklahoma Rep. Steve Russell discussed some of America’s most pressing policy issues. Mimi Geerges, host of CSPAN’S Washington Journal, moderated the conversation.

Hamilton’s Common Ground program hosted WCNY (PBS) for the first installment of its “Ivory Tower on the Road” series.

Common Ground Hosts WCNY “Ivory Tower on the Road”

Hamilton College’s Common Ground program hosted WCNY (PBS) for the first installment of its “Ivory Tower on the Road” series at local colleges and universities for an hour and a half of debate, conversation, and disagreement.

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