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Mercyhurst freshmen travel ‘Road to the White House’

Thursday, November 19, 2015

(L-R) Van Dyk, Lancaster, Soar

With a presidential election campaign peppered with scandal, vitriol, humor, wisdom and words of inspiration, Mercyhurst University’s freshman interdisciplinary course – The Road to the White House – couldn’t come at a more fitting time.

Taught by communications chair Meghan Waskiewicz and political science faculty Joe Morris and Rolfe Peterson, participating freshmen are divided into three groups of 26, with each group assigned to plan and carry out a presidential campaign from start to finish, culminating in an election, which is Friday, Nov. 20, in the Carolyn Herrmann Student Union.

Each team creates its own candidate modeled after the biography of a real-life candidate. Representing the Republicans is Daniel Soar, whose candidate is based on Jeb Bush; the Democrats, Miles Van Dyk, whose candidate models Hillary Clinton; and Independent Les Lancaster, who is assuming the role of Donald Trump.

The Road to the White House introduces students to the world of electoral politics by exploring strategies, tactics, institutions involved in presidential elections, and by following the 2016 presidential election in real-time. In addition to readings, lectures and multimedia experiences, students participate in a month-long election simulation. Earlier this fall, the students worked on two polls, one on the GOP primary, conducted by the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics, directed by Morris with methodologist Peterson.

“Over the course of the month-long simulation, students produced commercials, raised mock currency by meeting with more than 20 PACs played by faculty, submitted campaign finance reports, held rallies, participated in two press conferences and debated,” said Morris. “The campaign wraps up Friday with an election where the entire freshman class is eligible to vote.”

In concluding the class, U.S. Representative Mike Kelly is expected to meet with the students in early December to evaluate their campaigns and talk to them about elections.

“At the end of the day, these students are becoming more enlightened citizens relating to the political process — more so than the average voter,” Waskiewicz said. “From structuring a platform and messaging to developing attack ads and fundraising, these students are learning and then participating in the behind-the-scenes operations of a political campaign. I think they have a newfound appreciation for how much work running for office is and the intricacies of the operation.”