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USFSP students working for the presidential candidates in New Hampshire

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Among the thousands of out of state visitors who are descending upon New Hampshire for next week’s first-in-the-nation primary election are 23 students from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

USFSP political science professor Judithanne McLauchlan is taking her class to the Granite State to see American democracy in all of its glories – and excesses.

SPB met up with the professor and her students late Sunday morning at Tampa International Airport, where they would soon be departing on a Southwest flight to Manchester to volunteer on the presidential campaigns of seven different candidates in all.

Seven of the students will be working on the Bernie Sanders, five with Hillary Clinton, five with Marco Rubio, two with Jeb Bush, two with Ted Cruz, and one each for Donald Trump and Martin O’Malley.

“I let the students pick – I don’t assign,” McLauchlan says about who gets to volunteer for each candidate. “It’s an academic enterprise and students are going to learn about presidential campaigns.” Having said that, she acknowledges that “you really can’t go door-to-door in several feet of snow, if you really don’t believe that this candidate shouldn’t be president.”

Interest for her “Road to the White House” was the highest ever, she says, causing her to have to say no to several students who wanted to be part a pivotal part of the 2016 election cycle.

The reason she held the class down to the size that it is is due to logistics: she’s renting out two, 15-seat passenger vans to get the students around the state. While McLauchlan will drive one of the vans everyday to drop the students off in the late morning after the class convenes in the morning, she has a fellow Fulbright Scholar who is New Hampshire who will be driving the other bus (McLauchlan was a Fulbright Scholar to Moldova in 2010, was awarded a returning Fulbright to Moldova Summer 2012). In addition to working for the candidates, as a group they’ll take in morning seminars from McLauchlan, field trips to the state Capitol of Concord (to watch the opening session of the New Hampshire State Senate), meet with state lawmakers, and take in some town hall meetings held by some of the candidates.

As they awaited the call to board their plane, several students expressed their thoughts about the upcoming week.

“I think he’s very outspoken,” said Terran Winegeart, 19, regarding Donald Trump, the presumptive front-runner in New Hampshire, who he’ll be volunteering for. “But he has great leadership qualities, if he can control the outspokenness.”  Weingeart says he likes Trump’s plans for veterans for mental health in general.

An aspiring attorney, he says he’s found himself at times truly engaged in following politics, while other times he loses interest. “Needless to say, right now, I’m into it,” he affirms.

He also said he wasn’t sure what to expect about the experience, but he looks forward to learning and experiencing a lot from the 10-day trip.

Yaite Ruiz, 36, from Treasure Island, is all in for Ted Cruz. A bilingual speaker, she’s aware that New Hampshire doesn’t have the largest Latino community around (recent Census figures put the Hispanic population at 3.3%) – thus there’s a perhaps need for liaisons like herself to be used to advocate for the Texas Senator.

“My expectation is that he win the Iowa caucus, or be one of the top candidates, and then he’ll be very close in the race in New Hampshire on February 9,” she says.

Ruiz is also extremely excited to be in the Northeast for the occasion. “I’ve never been to see the snow in my life, so this is going to be the first time, I can’t wait. And I love to volunteer. I’m an energetic person who likes to help people.”

Sitting together waiting at the gate for the flight were classmates Alyssa Winston and Samantha Kendall, both big time Bernie Sanders supporters.

“I think it’s crazy how Bernie is so popular with millennials especially considering that he is the oldest candidate!,” said Kendall, 22. “As a college student, Bernie’s plan for free tuition is something I really support. It’s ridiculous that we live in a society where the majority of people are essentially required to go into debt just for higher education.”

Sitting on the opposite row of seats at the Southwest gate was Kristina Sonstroem, who is all in for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

“I want to see more women in politics, especially the presidency,” says Sonstroem, a 21-year-old from Orlando. “And I think Secretary Clinton is the right women for the job. I really support her women and family centered policies.”

She’s also looking forward to cold weather and possible snow conditions.

While the Republicans have a number of candidates barely above the margin of error in terms of their poll rankings (Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore), the Democrats have only one candidate that has failed to gain traction so far in this campaign – former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

One of the worst things to happen to O’Malley was the civic uprising in Baltimore last year in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray. When analysts studied Baltimore, some liberals blamed the pro-policing policies of O’Malley when he was the mayor there from 2007-2015.

David Thompson says that’s not fair.

“if you lived in Baltimore at the time he was mayor, because the violence and the crime was so extreme at that time, you really had to put those strict measures in place,” says Thompson, 18, who lived in Maryland for the first nine years of his life.  “Even though now we’re looking back at it we see some of the race/police relations aren’t good, it’s just comparing what the situation was at the time, there’s really no other way you could have handled how crazy Baltimore was at the time,” he says.

All of these students and the rest will be posting blog entries during their time in New Hampshire. You can access that through this link:

As far as those Florida students hoping to get some time in the snow, they may in luck. The 10-day forecast now shows that there could be snow on Tuesday – the day of the primary.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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