Dover resident gets taste of presidential campaigning

Widener University student and Dover resident Jack Heavner, one of five from the school who traveled to New Hampshire for its presidential primary earlier this month, is photographed with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. (Submitted photo/Widener University

DOVER — Regardless of your political leanings, it’s probably not hyperbole to say the 2020 presidential election is likely one of the most impactful in the history of the United States.

The country could look very different just a few years from now depending on who wins the White House in November. Whether it’s President Donald Trump, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, ex-Vice President Joe Biden, billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg or someone else, the next president will take office at an especially tumultuous time in American history.

And as more millennials and zoomers gain the ability to vote, the makeup of the country could shift in the coming years.

That’s why a small group of students from Widener University, including one from Dover, traveled to New Hampshire earlier this month ahead of the Granite State’s Feb. 11 primary election. The contest, the first primary and second election in the 2020 presidential race, saw strong showings by three Democrats, while President Trump cruised to victory on the Republican side.

The five Widener students visited the state along with two professors, spending several days attending candidate rallies and visiting polling places, collectively speaking to dozens if not hundreds of prospective voters.

The students, majors in political science and communication studies, were tasked primarily with gathering opinions from young voters, such as teenagers who might be casting a ballot for the first time. The group arrived Feb. 9 and left three days later, braving the elements at times as just a few out-of-state visitors in a sea of VIPs.

While students stopped by rallies for President Trump and Republican challenger Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, the main draw was the crowded Democratic contest.

Around 300,000 people participated in the primary, a New Hampshire record, with votes given to dozens of candidates. More than 98 percent of votes went to nine different people, with three candidates combining for almost 70 percent of ballots cast.

Five Widener University students traveled to New Hampshire for its presidential primary earlier this month. Once there, they interviewed dozens of young voters and attended several political rallies.

Jack Heavner, a junior from Dover, said most Democratic voters had two main concerns: Beating President Trump in November and continuing the country’s economic growth. But, Mr. Heavner said, there was a clear division between rallies held by Sens. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and their opponents.

“They were of the opinion the only way to beat Trump is to take a stand on our side” by pushing for justice on social, criminal and environmental issues, he said of supporters of Sens. Sanders and Warren.

Attendees at events for more moderate Democrats, such as former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, placed greater emphasis on building a broad coalition, pushing more centrist ideas to hopefully draw from a larger pool of voters, Mr. Heavner said.

Mr. Heavner, who hopes to go to law school and has an interest in perhaps working in politics in some capacity in the future, said he was surprised by how excited attendees at a rally for Sen. Klobuchar seemed to be despite her fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucus one week before. Indeed, Sen. Klobuchar ended up coming in third in New Hampshire, a sign of strong grass-roots support.

Sen. Sanders and Mr. Buttigieg finished in the top two places, with the senator and self-described democratic socialist earning about 4,000 more votes.

Another surprising thing, Mr. Heavner noted, was many attendees at the rallies for President Trump and Mr. Buttigieg were not old enough to vote. Some came with parents, while others appeared to be there simply to show support the best way they can, Mr. Heavner observed.

Candidates generally delivered positive messages, offering glimpses of the future that awaits voters if they only pick the right contender, he said.

While the picture could look quite different in terms of not just who is leading but also the very makeup of the field by the time Delaware’s primary rolls around April 28, Mr. Heavner believes New Hampshire-style campaigning is somewhat transferable to the First State. The two states are small, both geographically and in population, making them “two very close-knit communities where a lot of people know each other,” the political science major said.

Overall, at least for Mr. Heavner, the trip was an enlightening experience.

The students are scheduled to host a presentation on their visit at Widener this week and expect to attend more campaign events in Delaware and Pennsylvania come late April.