PSS Winter '13


In their “Elections and Campaigns” class, Professor of Political Science Iva Deutchman
and President Mark D. Gearan lead a conversation between their students and
journalist John King. The CNN Chief National Correspondent telephoned the class
to offer his insights on the Presidential race.

The News (Class) Room

by Sarah Tompkins ’10

It’s raining outside, but the animated conversation drowns out the patter. Eager hands shoot up as a former White House staffer and a political science professor outline the implications of the third and final presidential debate, ready to answer any curveball questions thrown their way.

A voice sounds from amid the excitement. “Excuse me sir, many are saying that while Obama was very aggressive, Romney proved to be competent, showing that he could be a viable leader. But who do you think was the winner?”

Far from spin alley, this makeshift news room is a small classroom in Coxe Hall and its inquisitive members of the press are students enrolled in “Elections and Campaigns” co-taught by Professor of Political Science Iva Deutchman and President Mark D. Gearan.

“Well,” begins Gearan, who spent the early years of his career working on political campaigns and later was Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Communications and Strategic Planning in the Clinton Administration. “Why don’t you tell me? Was this a ‘game changer’ for either candidate?”

Gearan’s inquiry sparks numerous responses, leading to questions of gaffs and iconic moments. With the efficiency and thoroughness of a major news network, students queue clips of a 1988 debate featuring a fumble by Michael Dukakis and a moment in 1976 when then-President Gerald Ford lost his second term with the denial of ‘Soviet domination.’ This is a familiar scene that plays out frequently in the coveted quadrennial course, offered by Deutchman and Gearan just three times to date.

An expert on the conservative movement and the religious right who annually accompanies students to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Deutchman has been carefully listening to the dialogue. “But do you think these players have appealed to their bases?” she asks. “Where does passion come too close to losing voters?”

At 11 a.m., the conference call phone sitting on the table at the front of the classroom comes to life, interrupting a heated discussion of the seven remaining toss-up states – which the class has slowly watched dwindle from an initial 10 battlegrounds. Gearan answers: “Welcome back to Geneva, New York, Governor Dean. You are live in Coxe 8.”

Immediately, former presidential-hopeful and 79th Governor of Vermont Howard Dean – who visited campus for a President’s Forum address in 2010 – has the full attention of the class. Call-ins like this are a weekly occurrence with some of the most prominent voices in politics today weighing in on the current race and what history may be able to teach the country. Republican Party activist Eric Tanenblatt, popular political commentators Mary Matalin and James Carville, conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt, and journalist John King have all lent their time and expertise to this semester’s roster.

Dean’s words seem particularly poignant to the class, as students take to YouTube and the Politico blog to examine moments from the previous debates and the results of the latest Gallup Polls. “The internet has truly transformed politics and completely changed the political process,” explains Dean. “What made a great campaign in 2000 is completely irrelevant to a campaign in 2012.”

Gearan makes a small gesture to Kees Nordin ’13 who sits with his hand patiently extended. “Good morning, Mr. Governor. I am curious – do you think that the internet is divisive in the world of politics or do you believe that it’s a useful and informative tool?”

While Dean responds with hopeful remarks about the diverse Millennial and Z generations, it is easy to see that his optimism is well-founded. The 30 students enrolled in the class alternate between listening attentively and offering their own opinions. This is not a classroom divided by partisan politics but instead one that acknowledges difference. These are young people working to explore the cogs and gears that power campaigns and what it means to be a participant in our political system as they prepare to cast their votes – all for the first time – in a presidential election.

David Luna ’14, a co-president of HWS Votes, helped more than 800 students on campus register to vote or obtain a ballot for the 2012 election, and helped to arrange a congressional debate on campus – the first to take place at the Colleges in recent memory.

Esther Altomare '13 recently returned to class after a week working as a production assistant for the second presidential debate at Hofstra University. Having previously served as a volunteer canvassing for New York Representative Michael Arcuri’s campaign, Altomare’s passion for political science is palpable.

Kelsey Ferris ’13 answers a question concerning the Republican platform based on her own experiences attending CPAC, while Kellsey Walls ’13 shares his adventures phone banking for local campaigns.

As the class period comes to a close, Deutchman and Gearan are presented with a question that seems woven into the narrative of the course – and perhaps the United States as a whole: does any of this matter?

“My unsurprising answer is: yes, elections matter. Our process is messy and these are challenging times,” explains Gearan. “However, this is also one of the best times to be alive – especially for young people. We live longer, there is more freedom and more democracies than there have ever been. But if you don’t vote, it will affect young people more than any other group. Be more demanding, support just causes, and we will get the democracy we deserve.”

“Voting for the candidate that takes office does not mean winning,” says Deutchman. “Losing does not mean your voice was unheard. Elections are what define a democracy, what define this country.”

Join the students in “Elections and Campaigns” by reading the following texts:

The Polarized Public?: Why American Government is so Dysfunctional by Alan I. Abramowitz

Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell by Jason Johnson

Predicting the Next President: The Keys to the White House by Allan J. Lichtman

The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012 by William G. Mayer and Jonathan Bernstein (editors)

Campaigns and Elections: Rules, Reality, Strategy, Choice by John Sides, Daron Shaw, Matt Grossmann and Keena Lipsitz


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.