PoliSci Students on the Campaign Trail

November 04, 2016

There's an election going down on the campus of Susquehanna University, but it's not the one you're thinking of.

This election is a simulation taking place in the Campaigns and Elections course led by Rolfe Peterson, assistant professor of political science. In Peterson's premise, Pennsylvania has created additional voting districts that require representation.

"This exercise gives students an idea of all that goes on in the background during a campaign," Peterson said, "and it gives them real-world experience, like how to respond to a crisis in real time and manage their time around that."

Thursday marked the campaign's only debate between candidates Michael Kennedy, of Butler, Pa., and Matthew Weiner, of Philadelphia. Both are junior political science majors.

Because this simulation is for a state election, many of the questions, all drafted and moderated by student "journalists," drafted by debate moderators focused on issues like taxes, marijuana legalization and fracking.

On the topic of fracking, Kennedy took the position that gas companies aren't paying their fair share in taxes. Weiner countered that excessive taxation could lead gas companies to pull out of Pennsylvania, further damaging the economy.

Questions veered into items of national interest, such as immigration, college tuition prices and whistleblower protection. All of this was live-tweeted by the audience using the handles @officialmweiner and @vote4michaelk, and the hashtags #nutsforchange and #justplainnuts.

Beyond the debate, students have had to fund-raise by soliciting select faculty members who were supplied with "Clark Cash," named for Assistant Professor Nick Clark. They have also created campaign advertisements and have even responded to crises in the form of a surprise, 11th-hour "WikiLeak" that, among other things, alleged Kennedy had financial interests in new energy markets.

Communications director Alyssa Oxner, a senior, had a response drafted in a matter of minutes.

"The crisis management tactics I learned as a communications major prepared me to analyze what was in front of me, decipher what was right and what was wrong, and then defend my candidate without attacking our opponent," she said.

The campaign culminates Tuesday, Nov. 8, with a vote from Associate Professor Michele DeMary's first-year political science class.

"The amount of immersion we have experienced is wonderful," said sophomore political science major Tyler Burke. "I love this."

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