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Government & Politics

A Year for the Ages

By Mike Unger

AU students watching an election coverage at Mary Graydon Center

The day after Barack Obama’s historic victory, a panel of experts convened by School of Public Affairs professor James Thurber gathered on campus to dissect the election. Kiki McLean, communications director to Senator Joseph Lieberman’s 2000 vice presidential campaign, pointed to the endorsement Obama received from Senator Ted Kennedy on January 28 as perhaps the key moment in the race.

Kennedy passed the baton from his legendary family to the man many see as the next great Democratic progressive leader that cold winter day at Bender Arena, kicking off a year for the ages at AU. From the first primary in New Hampshire to election night itself, students, faculty, and staff lived in the belly of the political beast.

On a surprisingly warm early January day, students in the School of Communication class Special Topics in News Media: Covering the 2008 Presidential Election scoured the Granite State covering John McCain and Hillary Clinton’s victories. Three weeks later, they were back on campus crammed into Bender Arena as the world watched Kennedy and his niece Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg throw their support behind Obama.

A Beatles-like buzz engulfed campus that day, as people lined Massachusetts Avenue hoping to be one of the lucky 3,500 to make it inside and catch a glimpse of political royalty from generations past and present.

After the grueling primary season ended and the field was whittled to two, the nation’s focus turned to the party conventions—and the AU community was there. In Denver, Washington College of Law professor and Maryland state senator Jamin Raskin served as an Obama delegate, and SPA and SOC major Kristian Hoysradt worked as a staff assistant to the National Conference of Democratic Mayors. In St. Paul, freshman Michael Monrroy spent the week reporting from the floor of the Xcel Center. The Sterling, Va.-native earned his ticket to the GOP convention by winning Crash the Party ’08, a national contest sponsored by Voto Latino and Si TV, an English-language network geared toward young Latinos. He was joined in Minnesota by Bernie Schultz, special assistant to the vice president in the Office of Campus Life, who worked as a member of the floor operating team, directing traffic and keeping order.

Those who couldn’t make it to the conventions weren’t left in the dark. Students blogged from both sites for politics@theEagle, the student newspaper’s new online political forum.

As the fall semester began, classes began taking a closer look at the contest. SOC professors Dotty Lynch and Lynne Perri joined their Election ’08: Politics, Polls, and the Youth Vote and Visual Media classes to create a poll of young voters. Working with the Gallup organization, the poll was released by USA Today.

SOC professor Leonard Steinhorn’s honors course, Presidential Campaign 2008: Inside the War Room and the News Room, was the centerpiece of Washington’s Fox-5 TV’s Campaign U project. Reporter Tom Fitzgerald followed the class throughout the entire semester, filing reports and hosting online chats during weekly live webcasts of the class discussion. The Thursday before the election, the students predicted a resounding 326-212 electoral college victory for Obama.

November 4 felt special from the start. Throughout the day, 147 students fanned out across Washington to volunteer as part of the Center for Democracy and Election Management’s College Student Poll Workers program. By the time their work was done, many had convened at the Mary Graydon Center to watch the returns. When CNN’s Wolf Blitzer called the race for Barack Obama, almost all of the hundreds gathered went into overdrive.

The crowd broke into alternating chants of “Obama!” and “Yes we can!” ZDF German TV anchor Claus Kleber, who led his network’s live broadcast from campus all evening, rushed into the tavern, crew in tow, to capture the moment for tens of thousands of online and TV viewers in Germany and across Europe. The building doors flew open and in flowed a steady stream of students coming to celebrate with their classmates and friends. Some were shirtless, some were screaming, some were hugging, some were crying. Within 25 minutes, the crowd thinned a bit as students rushed out to celebrate in the streets of Washington.

David Loudon, a sophomore from Worcester, Mass., was wearing a red Obama T-shirt.“Election day is like Christmas for D.C.,” he said.