UPDATE: Charlie Powell won the election on Nov. 17, capturing 58% of the vote.
While roaring fans rattle the Barclay-Thomsen bleachers during a women’s soccer match, a smaller crowd gathers around a table off to the side of the field. Students who have initially been lured towards plates of brownies linger around to shake hands and chat with the man behind the pastries. He stands out against the dull grayness of the autumn afternoon with a bright red Denison golf shirt and plenty of charisma.
He introduces himself as Jefferson Franklin Kennedy, and he hopes to represent Denison University in the U.S. House of Representatives.
As it turns out, Kennedy isn’t some daft politician who missed the memo that the mid-term elections are over. He’s actually Kevin Teague ’11, a student in Michael Brady’s “Campaigns & Elections” course. Divided into two teams, the class crafted fictional candidates vying to represent the theoretical congressional district of Denison. Now they’re taking their research to the streets and drumming up student support for a mock election on Nov. 17, which will be conducted through myDenison, the campus intranet system.
A campaign simulation represents the kind of experiential learning that has always appealed to Brady, an assistant professor of political science. “I want students to take what they’re learning into question, to test the validity,” he said. “I want them to experience the subject matter they’re studying.”
Brady structured the two groups based on a survey that gauged their place on the political spectrum. Then, using another survey of Denison students conducted by Associate Professor of Political Science Paul Djupe, they determined that, while the campus has a significant Republican base, Independent and Democratic party candidates would fair better in this year’s election. Party affiliations aside, Brady explained, the true challenge of any campaign is “making a candidate and message that are worth remembering,”
Soon, Kennedy the Independent, and Charlie Powell the Democrat were born, with Teague and Lucas Meyer ’12 stepping into the respective roles, and their classmates taking on the job of campaign staffers. Keeping in mind their congressional district of liberal arts students, both candidates cite environmental and educational issues as a main part of their platforms, though they differ on specifics.
Chelsea Back ’13, a member of the Kennedy camp, noted that “[campaigns] are all about tailoring to the constituency” – a concept that applies to both the College Hill and Capitol Hill.
Meyer, who feels like he has “transformed into Charlie Powell,” hopes that students will look at his candidate’s platform, but right now his campaign is all about raising awareness and mobilizing the masses to get out and vote.
Both groups have broadcasted ads, set up Facebook pages, splattered the campus with posters, and chatted with voters at meet-and-greets around campus. In typical fashion, the campaigns started with positive messages that focused on core issues, but on Nov. 9 Kennedy was the first to go negative with YouTube video that suggests “Charlie Powell is the candidate who is running for a party, and not for you.” Two days later, Powell countered with a video that questions Kennedy’s seriousness. “I’m no clown, so on Nov. 17 let’s make sure we don’t send one to Capitol Hill,” Powell states.
Obviously, the pressure is starting to mount. “I knew running as a candidate was a lot of work,” said Meyer, “but it’s still a lot more work than I thought. When you’re running for office, that’s your life. That’s everything.”
No matter who ends up winning on Election Day, these students will have gotten more than a glimpse into what an actual campaign process is like. Brady explained that the skills they are learning, such as developing strategy and responding in real time “will translate far beyond political science.”
Students and faculty will be casting their votes on MyDenison, the college’s intranet, on Nov. 17.