Every four years New Hampshire plays an important role in helping to select the next President of the United States. As the first in the nation primary the state holds a special place in our election process. New England College also joins in on the action, hosting College Convention on the eve of the primary.
Hosted the first week of January during Presidential election years the 5-day event held in Manchester gives high school and college students from around the country an up close and personal time with the candidates running for President. While living or going to school in New Hampshire it may be normal to see a Presidential candidate 3 or 4 times even in your small town, but this is not even close to the experience had by those in other states with later and less consequential primaries. At College Convention, students get to have the “New Hampshire experience” of meeting candidates and getting to talk to them one-on-one.
At the Hilton Double Tree in Manchester it was not uncommon to see U.S. Senator from Colorado Michael Bennet eating in the lobby. Or to run into Marianne Williamson near the elevators. The candidates are all around with many staying at the same hotel as the students and convention-goers.
Throughout the course of the week many candidates came and spoke to packed rooms of students and lined up for thousands of selfies with potential voters. Both Republicans currently running against President Trump for the Republican nomination held town hall events at the convention, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld and former Congressman from Illinois Joe Walsh.
A large number from the Democratic side also showed up to help secure the nomination. Businessman Tom Steyer, noted for his famous YouTube ads, arrived on Thursday morning as one of the final participants.
U.S. Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman from Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard both appeared via video as they were unable to attend the convention in person. Representative Gabbard took questions via skype after her speech as she had been called back to Washington.
U.S. Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar was one of the highlights of the convention. As one of the candidates near the top of the polls who consistently makes the debates she was certainly the highest profile candidate to appear in person. Senator Klobuchar arrived at the hotel shortly before her speech and spoke to a packed room before taking a few questions.
Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, one of the most recent candidates to join the race, also came and spoke. Many students knew very little about the Governor and really enjoyed his message and felt him to be very personable especially in contrast to how manic Representative Joe Walsh’s town hall was. A lot of the students at the convention that I talked to wished that they had heard of Governor Patrick earlier in the race before they had already decided who to vote for.
Many New Hampshirites not running for President also held events. Current New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner held two plenary sessions talking about the special place this state has in Presidential elections. The Secretary also provided a long history of how New Hampshire originally got its first in the nation status, and some of the reasons why it should stay first.
State Senator Lou D’Allesandro representing the Manchester area also spoke to the attendees with his own stories from the Presidential Primary trail. Senator D’Allesandro spoke about meeting then U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy as a young student at the University of New Hampshire and receiving a phone call from former President Bill Clinton while at a Manchester meeting.
Former Chief of Staff to President George H.W. Bush and New Hampshire Governor John Sununu helped kick off the start of the convention on Sunday night with a talk about his own experience with other states trying to challenge New Hampshire’s status as the first primary. When talking about the Iowa Caucus (the only state to go before New Hampshire) former Governor Sununu made sure to throw in his famous quote: “Iowa picks corn, New Hampshire picks Presidents.”
New England College has been running the convention since it was founded in the 2000 election. This being the 5th edition of the convention, it was a great experience for all the students and candidates that attended. Many students said it was a very informative and transformative experience.