RIC students get front-row view of presidential politics in New Hampshire; join NBC 10’s Twitter Team

Just days before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman told students at the 2012 College Convention in Concord: “You can’t Twitter your way to success.”

From left: Hillary Costa, Jennifer Collins, Wendy Cardona, Heather Barlow, Alexis Garcia, Jordan Day and Tyne Uzo pose with former House speaker Newt Gingrich following a town hall meeting in Meredith, N.H.
Just after it was said, Huntsman’s words were tweeted by a member of the audience, Jennifer Collins – a RIC senior studying public and professional communication – and immediately synced on to NBC 10’s New Hampshire Primary Twitter Team website.

Collins, and several other RIC students – most of whom were enrolled in Valerie Endress’ political campaign course – traveled throughout New Hampshire from Jan. 5-8 to follow presidential candidates and experience political events leading up to the New Hampshire Primary.

A new requirement for Endress’ course this year was for students to tweet both their observations and political commentary from presidential meetings and rallies in New Hampshire as they occurred.

NBC 10 partnered with RIC for campaign coverage during this event, allowing the students to become members of NBC 10’s New Hampshire Primary Twitter Team.

New Hampshire Twitter Blog

“Tweeting for [NBC 10] meant I was sharing my experience with local independent voters like myself,” said Jordan Day, a RIC junior studying history and political science. “I consider this the real beginning of my political career.”

“It was an awesome experience because we could inform followers what was happening in real time,” added Wendy Cardona, a RIC junior studying public and professional communication.

RIC students came across this dedicated Paul supporter at a debate watch party in Manchester.
Endress, professor of political communication, has taken students to the New Hampshire Primary for over 25 years. The trip was sponsored by RIC’s American Democracy Project (ADP), a campus initiative that promotes political engagement in the student body.

Another requirement for Endress’ class was for students to choose one presidential candidate and follow them from the declaration of their campaign to New Hampshire.

Each student followed a different person, and though they didn’t necessarily support their candidates’ values, they found themselves developing personal connections and feeling attached to them, said Endress.

“I can’t explain it, but I did get emotionally involved with my candidate over the course of the class,” said Hillary Costa, a RIC sophomore studying communication and political science, who chose to follow Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts.

On the group’s first night in New Hampshire, they attended a crowded town hall meeting in Meredith held by former House speaker Newt Gingrich. Collins was chosen to sit behind Gingrich during the event, which was covered by C-SPAN, and was on camera for most of the meeting, she said.

Collins was “impressed with [Gingrich’s] honest dialogue,” she tweeted after the event. Costa tweeted that she was “pleasantly surprised” with his stage presence and that “he is now very appealing.”

After the meeting, Gingrich spoke with the RIC students about Social Security programs in local colleges, and also took pictures with them.

“I went in hating Newt Gingrich,” said Costa. “I left his Town Hall meeting having a newfound respect for him.”

On the following afternoon, students attended a rally for Congressman Ron Paul at the Nashua Jet Aviation at Boire Field Airport. The rally was held in an airplane hangar, where an overwhelming amount of supporters were packed in like sardines, said Collins.

“The energy in the rally was negative, and there was so much hostility toward America,” said Costa, who tweeted that the crowd was “chanting and raving” throughout the event.

Several RIC students mentioned and tweeted about the dedication of Paul supporters. Two people debating outside of the hangar after Paul’s rally drew a crowd and a press video camera, according to Nicholas Coutis, a RIC freshman studying political science, who labeled Paul as a “strong presence in a small market.”

"Seeing the enthusiasm of the audience made me feel like I was part of something bigger. [I wasn’t] just a RIC student participating in a once in a lifetime experience, but a voter getting to witness the beginning of the presidential election."
- Jordan Day

“Ron Paul supporters take fanaticism to an entirely different level,” said Tyne Uzo, a RIC junior studying communication with a concentration in mass media.

The day after Paul’s rally, the students attended a Paul supporter’s debate watch party at Jillian’s Billiards in Manchester, where they observed the debate held about three miles away at Saint Anselm College.

On the students’ final day in New Hampshire, they attended a Romney rally at the Rochester Opera House. The building was packed with several media sources; there was about a 1:1 media-to-supporter ratio in the theatre, tweeted Uzo minutes before the event began.

Costa was able to sit on stage behind Romney during the rally with several of her classmates, and was able to shake his hand at the end of the event.

“That handshake … showed me that retail politics are an art form that is still alive and well,” said Costa.

Professor Valerie Endress (back right) was joined by her students and others at Mitt Romney's campaign headquarters in Manchester, N.H.
“Seeing the enthusiasm of the audience made me feel like I was part of something bigger,” said Day. “[I wasn’t] just a RIC student participating in a once in a lifetime experience, but a voter getting to witness the beginning of the presidential election.”

After Romney’s speech, Costa and other students were interviewed by national and international news sources. An article about the RIC students ran in USA Today, said Endress, and the students were also interviewed by the Associated Press, and major newspapers in Singapore, Helsinki, Beijing, Tokyo and Stockholm.

Other events the students attended in New Hampshire include town hall meetings held by Huntsman (who has since dropped out of the presidential race) and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. They also visited Romney’s campaign headquarters.

“A few months ago, our class was too afraid to raise our hands at political forums on campus and speak to panelists,” said Costa. “Now, here we were, sitting on stage for a nationally televised rally and speaking to news sources on our own doing.”

It seems that Endress’ students, who stuck with their candidates through achievements and obstacles and reported on them every step of the way, were able to do just what Huntsman suggested was impossible: they were able to Twitter their way to success.