“We must rise to the challenge in 2020.”
This was the admonition congressman Chris Pappas gave to thousands of Democrats last Saturday in the face of the November election. The urgency was there.
That night, New Hampshire Democrats gathered in Mancshester’s Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) arena for a caucus event, where some of the most prominent Democratic candidates gave their last pitch to voters before the primary on Tuesday, Feb. 11.
Attending this gathering were many Gordon students. And no, they were not just political science majors. A freshman who is currently interning for the Deval Patrick campaign, Rachel Mast, advertised around campus and was able to draw a considerable amount of interest. Biology, biblical studies, international relations, and sociology majors were also among those that came.
The event started with the Pledge of Allegiance, which was then followed by the singing of the National Anthem. There was a feeling of unity in the air. Shortly afterwards, notable leaders of the New Hampshire Democratic party proceeded to walk onto the stage, names you’ve possibly heard, such as Raymond Buckley (state party chairman), Maggie Hassan (junior senator of New Hampshire), and Jeanne Shaheen (senior senator of New Hampshire).
Queen’s “We Will Rock You” set the tone of the evening, and after the music ended, cheers could be heard throughout the stadium. Against deafening applause, one party leader declared, “do you hear that Donald Trump! Do you hear that Mr. President?”
Beating the president in the upcoming election was perhaps the greatest point stressed throughout the night. Senator Hassan emphasized that it is “an absolute necessity to beat Donald Trump in November.” The senior senator from New Hampshire agreed, noting that “anyone who gets elected will be better than who we have in the White House now.”
Each of the candidates expressed this same opinion as the night progressed, but one question loomed: who is the best to defeat him? Over nine candidates drew upon their accomplishments, experiences, and knowledge of current policy issues to make their case.
Pete Buttigieg presented his positive ideas for America. Joe Biden depicted a grim view of the country and contrasted that with what his presidency would look like. Andrew Yang relied on his relational persona, love of specifics, and his practical perspective on politics.
Elizabeth Warren touted her vision for equality and justice. Bernie Sander focused on the successes of his campaign and what his movement meant for America. Deval Patrick positively expressed his progressive agenda.
All the candidates discussed issues concerning the economy, immigration, college debt, climate change, and healthcare. All appealed to the Democratic base for their vote.
Who was most convincing? Gordon students had mixed opinions.
Mast would be delighted to know that people had good things to say about Deval Patrick after his speech. Meredith Carlile ‘21, a political science and sociology double major, was quite impressed with his performance. She didn’t know much about him prior to this event, but after his speech she said: “he actually had a lot of interesting things to say.”
Carlile also exuberantly described him as “cool,” and expressed that “I’ll definitely be looking into him after this.”
Sophia Rowe too, a freshman studying international relations, also confessed that though she didn’t know much about Patrick, “I was impressed by his ability to inspire the crowd to take action.”
Other candidates did a good job in the eyes of Gordon students as well. Senior Arwen Struthers, for instance, was enthusiastic about Pete Buttigieg’s performance and said she was most likely going to support him. She described his policy positions as “super compelling,” especially his ‘New Call to Service,’ which she approves as “not a reactionary policy, like most.”
In his analysis, Political Science major John Skoog ‘22 told the Tartan that he thought “Andrew Yang did a good job, as well as Bernie. However, based on what they said, I think Yang would do a better job if he was elected.”
Rowe was likewise positive about Yang, saying that he “seems like an overall likable candidate…his speech felt more human and less politician than some of the others.” She also noted the enthusiasm from the “Yang Gang,” his supporters, as they raised above the stadium balcony a “gigantic” one thousand dollar bill with Andrew Yang’s face in the center.
Joe Biden was not received as well.
“I was really disappointed by Joe Biden.” said Gabriel Packevicz ‘20, a Biblical studies and sociology double major, “I thought that the way he spoke was really non-specific and non-structured, not compelling…So I was disappointed by that.”
He wasn’t the only one. Carlile also agreed, “I hadn’t been pursuing Joe Biden’s political campaign so far, very closely, because I had just heard a couple of negative things about him… I think tonight I was also kind of discouraged, seeing him speak especially in comparison to the relatively hopeful and positive messages of the other candidates…I don’t think he brought the same energy to the event”
Irrespective of their opinions on the various candidates, every student was able to take away something valuable from the event. Many were surprised by the democratic energy, the enormous amount of political signage, and the overall tone of the evening.
“[It was] a great opportunity to hear all the candidates speaking about themselves, all together at the same place, without it being a debate,” Mast said. “It’s the first time I’ve experienced anything like it.”
Even Skoog, who identifies as a Republican, was surprised by a lot of the things he saw.
“What was really interesting was how it seemed as if I was at a sporting event,” Skoog said. “The pure devotion and energy was something I had normally only seen at football or basketball games. It was kind of weird to think of that level of excitement for a political figure.”
Despite not agreeing with their content, Skoog said “it was a very interesting experience to hear their sides of things.”
Perhaps the most unique opinion of the event came from Serefina Zotter, a freshman biology student and a dual citizen from Austria. Politics in Europe are quite different than the politics in America, so many of the things at the Democratic Caucus were very new to her.
She expressed to the Tartan how it was hard to parse through the political rhetoric and understand the content, mostly because the speeches were trying to win her vote. She was also taken aback by the polarizing nature of American politics,
“Although it wasn’t a big surprise that their main point was getting Trump out of the whitehouse” Zotter said. “I was shocked by how open they were about ‘this is the worst president ever’”
She told the Tartan that in Austria, politics weren’t nearly as divisive. When it was all said and done however, Zotter took a lot away from the evening,
“The event was very interesting in that I was able to see a lot of the Democratic candidates, especially those that I didn’t know about at all,” Zotter said. “It was also nice because I got to see them one after the other, so it was easy to compare and form an opinion.”
At the end of the night, everyone agreed the New Hampshire Caucus was quite an educational experience.
After all of it was over, many Gordon students were able to reflect on the significance of the upcoming election through a Christian perspective. Arwen Struthers, for example, discussed that for her, faith is an essential component when deciding who to vote for.
“Faith can be something that builds integrity in a person” Struthers said. “In offices of this esteem and prestige you need people of integrity. Faith has forced me to look for people of integrity.”
When it came to the politics of the election, Rachel Mast emphasized how Christians should approach political events like the one in New Hampshire with a sense of unity.
“I believe that everyone needs to approach each other with a posture of humility and respect – no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on.” Mast urged that the “us versus them” mentality “needs to stop…the two sides working against each other has never solved anything. We need to work with each other.”
John Skoog also resonated with this sentiment.
“From a Christian perspective, I think it is important to remember that at the end of the day, no one person or party is the root of all evil in our country, and no one person or party can be the salvation for the country,” Skoog said. “As Christians, we have to first look to Christ for salvation… we may have disagreements, but the one and only hope for our nation is not a political party. It is in the one true king, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
For Gordon students approaching the 2020 election, whether they’re Democrat, Republican, or Independent, perspectives like these demonstrate the unity there is in faith. Regardless of whether one agrees with their roommate, friend, or professor on politics, everyone on campus can be unified through the Gospel.
As was said by one of the students during the event: “Faith comes first in the world of politics.”