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Presidential Nomination Process 101


The small state of New Hampshire is famous in the political world for its early presidential primary, a contest that has catapulted underdogs such as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and John McCain to eventual nomination. For two weeks in January, eight Hamilton students got a first-hand look at the presidential nomination process in Nashua, N.H.

Under the guidance of Professor of Government Phil Klinkner, students volunteered full time for various campaigns and spent the evenings studying the history and details of the New Hampshire primary. Campaign participation consisted largely of door-to-door canvassing, which many professionals believe is the most effective method of forming connections with voters. Students learned the basic tasks expected of campaign employees and time-honored methods of finding votes. 

The campaign class took full advantage of the attention that candidates shower on New Hampshire, attending events featuring Andrew Yang, Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard, Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney, and former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Smith. 

After work, the class discussed the relative strengths of candidates and delved into academic articles on the geography of New Hampshire politics and the history of the state’s primary. “Campaign classes give students the opportunity to link classroom learning with on-the-ground experience,” Klinkner said. “Overall, I think it was a great experience and one that they will remember.”

Campaigns provide a unique opportunity for young people to engage in meaningful work. Field organizers, the city- or region-level staff that form the backbone of any campaign, are often unionized, always well-paid, and rarely older than 25. Will Downs ’21, a volunteer for Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, strongly believes that he “played a small role in energizing the voters of New Hampshire and in potentially altering the course of our politics.” 

This sense of fulfilment was universal.

“I had a great experience working on Amy’s campaign,” Maggie Cunha ’20, a volunteer in Senator Klobuchar’s Nashua office, remarked. “I especially enjoyed speaking directly with New Hampshire residents and hearing their thoughts about the primary. People were very receptive to learning about a candidate that they may not have known much about.”

Even after careful analysis, the class concluded that this year’s Democratic nomination is still very much up in the air. In fact, contact with voters often caused students to re-evaluate their candidate choices. Students in the campaign class were Cal Reynolds ’20, Jon Older ’21, Maggie Cunha ’20, Matt Carney ’21, Rileigh Arrington ’21, Will Downs ’21, and Wriley Nelson ’22.

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