CCPS holds early politics seminars

After last year's extraordinary presidential election, the last thing most people wanted to concentrate on was another political campaign. Most Americans, it seemed, had more than their fill of the speeches, commercials and public relations battles that dragged on well into December of 2000.

On the coattails of the never-ending presidential campaign, though, some students cut their winter breaks short to take intensive two-week classes at AU's Campaign Management and Lobbying Institutes in January.

Both the Campaign Management and the Lobbying Institutes are divisions of AU's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, which is headed by Professor James Thurber in the School of Public Affairs.

In its 18th year, the Campaign Management Institute offers classes to students interested in learning basic skills necessary to run a campaign. SPA Professor Candice Nelson taught the class from Jan. 3 through Jan. 11, focusing on campaign techniques, strategies and tactics. The class covered opposition research, message strategies and voter contact and targeting, Nelson said.

Students were spilt into groups of five and six and had to work together to develop strategies for specific campaigns in both Virginia and New Jersey. Some of the gubernatorial candidates focused on were Don DeFrancesco (R) of New Jersey and Mark Warner (D) of Virginia.

The groups each collaborated on a final project, which was a written campaign plan of over one hundred pages for the actual candidates they had been assigned to for the two weeks.

Professor Nelson said the combination of fieldwork and lectures from guest speakers is what makes the four-credit course so intense.

"These students work very, very hard," she said. The governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey will take place in the fall, and some of the students may end up working on some of those campaigns, Nelson said. "They probably know more about the campaigns than those actually working on them at this point," Nelson said.

SPA senior Joe Tordella first learned about CMI classes as a senior in high school on an AU tour and was intrigued. After completing the course this year, Tordella thinks it provided a "great start for someone wanting to work on a campaign."

Some of the most important things Tordella learned were targeting of specific groups of voters in certain areas in relation to how much money will be spent in certain areas and "get out the vote" techniques to boost turnout. Tordella also talked about the difficulty in putting together the final project with the group. It included a 200-page paper detailing a campaign plan and a presentation to the class.

"By the time of the presentation, we had all been up for 65 hours," Tordella said. "To work in a team like that under the most stressful circumstances, you really have to rely on the members in your group.""

Michael Kaiser, graduate assistant in the Lobbying Institute, said the group work was one of the most important aspects of the Institute's course as well. "Students had to work with people who were very different from them. I think that's a good simulation of real life," he said.

Like CMI, the Lobbying Institute brought in guest speakers and required students to complete proposals on real issues.

Some of the subjects groups did their final projects on were the opening of an Arctic wildlife refuge and the support of building more roads instead of public transportation.

Both CMI and the Lobbying Institute will offer other two-week sessions in early May.

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