Web Exclusives: Andrew Romano on politics
Photo by Frank Wojciechowski

April 22, 2004

Student Body Politic 6.0

By Andrew Romano ’04

At 3:30 p.m. on the last day of March, a forwarded email appeared in my inbox. The subject line was coy. Just two words, tempting and demure: “Special Event.” I clicked on the message and started to read.

“Dear student or member of the Princeton University community,” it began, accurately enough. “It is my pleasure to invite you to a Special Studybreak Event for Tomorrow starting promptly at 9:00 p.m. to be held in the Frist Student Campus Center. There will be a wide selection of food and beverage available for you to enjoy on a break from your work.”

Sounded like your average study break, really. A respite from the thesis? Check. A spread of snacks and drinks? Check. Nothing Special about this particular Event.

But – hold the presses – the best had been saved for last. “There will also be a special speaker who must remain nameless for security and publicity reasons. This individual wanted to take a break from his very busy schedule, and spotlight in the media, to speak with young Princeton students as he continues his campaign.”

Campaign. Apparently, the sort of person who campaigns – and campaigns in italics – had decided to meet the sort of person like me. “We understand if you may wish to pass this information on to your student group, or friends,” the email continued, “but please refrain from being careless with the information.”

Weeks earlier, the University had invited a small, select group of undergrads to dine with former Secretary of State Henry Kissenger; now I, the Princeton Alumni Weekly’s sole political web-columnist, had been selected to meet a speaker so special that the mere mention of his name could cause a commotion both unsafe and unseemly. The words “security,” “publicity,” “spotlight,” and “media” dangled like red meat well within the reach of this PAW. The next evening’s Special Event had become my big scoop.

Later that day I ran into the friend who forwarded me the email. Reveling in the mystery of it all, we placed our bets. “You think by ‘campaign’ they mean ‘presidential campaign?’” he asked. “That seems to be the implication,” I said. “Well, it’s definitely not Bush,” he said. “Definitely not the leader of the free world,” I agreed. “And I can’t imagine Kerry coming to Princeton unannounced.” He ventured a guess: “Nader, you think?” “It has to be Nader,” I said. “Princeton alum, courting the liberal youth vote, time on his hands.” “Nader,” he said. “Nader,” I said. We shrugged in unison. “He’s better than nothing,” my friend said.

Ralph Nader graduated from Princeton in 1955 with an A.B. in politics. His senior thesis was called "Lebanese Agriculture." It’s a fitting title, that, because to current Princeton undergrads, there’s little difference between the tireless consumer-rights-advocate-come-Independent-presidential-candidate and Lebanese agriculture: both seem boring and irrelevant.

In 2000, campus conservatives liked Nader for the same reason most campus liberals loathed him: he played the spoiler. (Bush’s margin of victory in two states – Florida and New Hampshire – was smaller than the number of people there who voted for Nader.)

But in 2004, no one here – on the right or left – seems to care. Princeton liberals are resolutely anti-Bush; they’d rather spend their time in the voting booths sending Dubya back to Crawford, Texas, than making a statement. One history professor – a highly respected scholar who’s also active in Democratic politics –patiently explained to me that Nader is an “egotistical maniac.” On-campus commentary pretty much ends there.

Still, I was stoked. I’d attended a pro-Nader rally at Madison Square Garden the fall of 2000, and though the politics were a bit bloated, the music was lean and strong: between rants from Michael Moore and Phil Donahue, Eddie Vedder and Patti Smith kept me entertained. And I’d always respected how, as a consumer crusader, Nader played an updated David to the modern Goliaths of Business and Government. Part of me was looking forward to getting the scoop, sure, but the other part was just looking forward to shaking Nader’s hand.

8:58, the day of the Special Event. From my carrel in Firestone I checked the “invite” one last time: “The location will be adjacent to Cafe Vivian on the Main Floor (100 Level) of the Frist Campus Center. We sincerely hope you can make it!” I grabbed a pencil and my AP notepad and jogged to Frist.

Café Vivian is nestled up against the eastern edge of the campus center. It opens onto a row of tables and chairs; adjacent the tables and chairs are more tables and chairs, the difference being that these tables and chairs fill a nook bounded on one side by massive computer “display wall.” The second I caught sight of the Café Vivian/display wall region of Frist I knew something was off. Instead of seeing a Special Event in full swing, I saw the usual: students hunched over textbooks, students curled up with lattes, students deep in conversation. No spread of snacks and drinks. No special speaker.

There were, however, 30 or so extra people milling about, each with a look on his or her face much like the look on mine. We were all struggling to remember the email we’d received the previous afternoon. The sender was listed as “Office of the Dean,” wasn’t it? Does Princeton even have an Office of the Dean? And say a presidential candidate, or a candidate of any kind, or even a noteworthy “campaigner” was going to visit Princeton: why would he hold court in the middle of Frist?

Disoriented, I checked my watch: 9:02 p.m. Right on time. Suddenly, my focus shifted from the watch’s hands to the window where it displays the date: “1,” it read. April 1st. The day after the last day of March. The first day of April.

April Fool’s Day.

“Oh, I was here anyway,” a girl seated outside Café Vivian said a few minutes later, her book opened to an unread page. “I’ve been working here for hours.”

“Yeah, and when I saw you here reading, I stopped to chat for a second,” said a boy who had been fidgeting at her table for a good half-hour.

“Well, I’m just here reporting for the PAW,” I said.

April Fool’s Day. We’d all been fooled.

Andrew Romano ’04, English major and proud New Jersey native, aspires to be the next Bruce Springsteen. Short of that, he'll settle for spending the rest of his life getting paid to write.


March 4, 2004

Student Body Politic 5.1

By Andrew Romano ’04

As you've undoubtedly noticed, this page hasn't been updated for some time. It hasn't been for lack of news. A lot has happened recently, both in the national spotlight and here on the Princeton campus. Dean dropped out; Nader jumped in; Kerry took the cake.

Problem is, I've been spending all my time in the bowels of Firestone, three floorsbeneath the surface of the Earth,
locked away in a closet-sized carrel, far from all that is human and good. Not the best place to report from.

The thesis has taken over my life. For the next month, I'm putting Student Body Politic on hold. I tried for the last two weeks to keep both the thesis plate and the PAW plate spinning at once — I wanted to keep you informed about how the Deaniacs are still "fighting to take back America;" how even though he's a Tiger, current Princetonians want Ralph Nader to get back in his cage; how liberals and conservatives on campus feel about Bush's proposed amendment to ban gay marriage, which Professor Robert George has helped craft; and how, on the morning after Super Tuesday, students at your alma mater regard the newly-minted Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry. If I had a choice, I'd write all this and more. Not my thesis. I don't have a choice.


February 5, 2004

Student Body Politic 5

By Andrew Romano ’04

Intersession Campaigning

While their classmates were tanning in Aruba or skiing in Aspen over the Intersession break — or, like me, thesisizing in a Firestone carrel — more than 40 Princeton students trekked to frigid New Hampshire to volunteer for the campaigns of John Edwards, Wesley Clark, Joe Lieberman, and Howard Dean. They stood outside for hours each day, chanting and holding signs; at night, they'd catch a few hours of sleep on the floor of a voter's house. As classes started up this week, I sat down with three of these volunteers — my friends and fellow seniors Catesby Perrin ’04, Steve Porter ’04, and Kim Nortman ’04 — to discuss the challenges and rewards of serving as foot soldiers in a presidential campaign.

On Reasons for Volunteering:

Catesby Perrin ’04: I knew since this summer that the primary was something I definitely wanted to be a part of, as it fell so perfectly during intersession, and the opportunity is one that I might not be presented with again in the future. I heard so much about how much energy and excitement there was in the past. I knew I had to go this year.

Steve Porter ’04: I didn't decide to head up to NH until the Friday before we left (Jan. 23). I had assumed that all the volunteer spots were already filled up, and, much like Mary on the night of her birth to baby Jesus, there would be no room for me at the inn. But I started talking to [friends who were helping the Edwards campaign because of Cate] and got to thinking, "When else am I going to have such a personal connection to the presidential race?" I have never been too actively engaged in politics — as a matter of fact, this is the first primary I have ever watched intensely. I thought it would be a great experience, and a unique opportunity — I know that sounds cheesy and cliche, but it's true. 

On Volunteer Duties:

Kim Nortman ’04: Our basic duties as volunteers were to make personal contact with as many people as possible and maintain as high a level of visibility for the candidate as possible.

Perrin ’04: As a volunteer we were basically relegated to a nonstop barrage of different outdoor duties, typically standing in 5-degree weather for hours on end.

Nortman ’04: This involved canvassing neighborhoods (going door-to-door and trying to convince people to vote for Edwards), dropping literature in stores and at houses, and doing "visibilities" (affectionately called doing a "viz"), which involved holding signs and chanting on street corners.

Porter ’04: We got to perform fun chants like: "E-D-W-A-R-D...S, oh Yes, John is the best!" and "1! We love John Edwards, 2! We'll win New Hampshire, 3! We'll take the White House in 2004 4 4 4...1(repeat)"

Perrin ’04: It was exhausting, and I'm still recovering feeling in my extremities from the long hours outside in the bitter cold.

Nortman ’04: For Edwards, the main goal for the first days we were there was to get people to go to a speaking event, because his strength is winning people over in person.

Porter ’04: Then on primary day, we stood outside polling places with signs, welcoming voters as they came in and thanking them for voting on the way out.

Perrin ’04: I was stationed outside a polling place to stand and hold a sign from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. with little or no break, basically staring at a brick wall as voters came and went. It's a thankless job, but you realize how important it is when hundreds of people are doing it across the state.

On What I Learned:

Nortman ’04: One thing that surprised me is how personal and almost primitive the tactics of campaigning are in Iowa and NH.

Porter ’04: "It's kind of funny to envision the democratic primary as akin to the race for high school student council president, but on a much bigger scale. I mean, the same catch phrases that you would see on a high school campaign ("Vision." "Wisdom." "Experience"....etc) find themselves on the placards and pamphlets of presidential contenders. That's funny to me."

Nortman ’04: When I first started canvassing, the town was so small that I felt like I was walking around for a city council election rather than the presidential primary. In such a media-centric culture, and as someone who grew up in a big city, I didn't realize how important it is in these states to make personal contact with as many people as possible. The people who live in Iowa and NH get to have a completely different experience than the rest of the country. One guy whose door I approached said he had already opened the door for four Dean people, a Kerry person, and a Clark person.

Porter ’04: I just got a much better sense of the extraordinary manpower that goes into creating these campaigns. Witnessing the logistics of what went on in the Portsmouth office (which was always chaotic), and then thinking that the same processes were occurring in offices throughout New Hampshire and across the country made me really appreciate the truly grand scope of the task of running for President.

Perrin ’04: You also realize the power of the national media to shape the perceptions of the campaign as each candidate has dozens of cameras and reporters following him every second of the day, and they can only reach such a limited number of voters on their own in person. The media wields enormous power.

Nortman ’04: Another thing that surprised me is how many people take off from work for a few days to come to NH from all over the country just to hold signs for a candidate they respect. It was refreshing to see so many politically engaged people out there, and it inspired me to want to continue to volunteer throughout my life.


Porter ’04: We were all outside the South Church in Portsmouth, where Senator Edwards had just given an impassioned speech. We were congregating in a circle with camera crews all around, and we were waiting for the Senator to come out to say a few words. There happened to be a few Kucinich supporters in our midst holding signs. Not sure why they were there, but they were. We were standing right next to one burly guy holding a Kucinich sign when Paige (another Princeton volunteer) turns to me and says (obviously within earshot of the man) "Who the hell is Ku-Ku-nick?" Kind of an unintended slap in the face to the supporters of the candidate who has the least chance of actually securing the nomination. Mean, but hilarious.

Nortman ’04: I was walking door-to-door with two other campaigners around 8:30 at night, and a man invited us into his house so that we could warm up. (This sounds sketchy, but it's not.) We ended up launching into a 25-minute conversation with this guy, who described himself as a conservative democrat or a liberal republican. We talked about everything from taxes to health care to education. At the end of the 25 minutes, he told us we had won him over. He said that we had his vote and that he would convince his father to get on board. It was definitely one of those quintessential "we are making a difference" moments.

On John Kerry, the Democratic frontrunner:

Porter ’04: I like John Kerry. He has a wealth of experience, both political and military, that many people seem to think make him a more electable candidate than Edwards. I had a lot of Kerry supporters come up to me and say, "We hope that Kerry will unite the north, Edwards will unite the South, and together we will unite he country." The Kerry supporters all seem to be quite keen on Edwards as VP nominee. 

Perrin ’04: I like John Kerry as a person and as a potential president, but, despite that, I wonder how he can win being from liberal Massachusetts when a candidate like Edwards has such extensive policy plans, can carry the South, and appeals to many independent and even republican voters, wooing many more crossovers than John Kerry would.

Porter ’04: My reservation about Kerry is that I don't think he has dealt effectively with the Iraq issue. Why did he choose not to oppose Bush then, but is so quick to judge his actions now?

Andrew Romano ’04, English major and proud New Jersey native, aspires to be the next Bruce Springsteen. Short of that, he'll settle for spending the rest of his life getting paid to write.

January 20, 2004

Student Body Politic 4 — After Iowa

By Andrew Romano ’04

Shortly after 9:00 Monday night inside Princeton’s Triumph Brewing Company, 75 zealous political newcomers and ideological activists affiliated with the “Princeton for Dean” group got a shot of bad news to go with their Coffee and Cream Stouts.

The Deaniacs had assembled hours earlier in front of a huge projection screen to watch CNN’s coverage of the Iowa Caucus and scarf down grilled pizzas, planning, as the e-mail invitations put it, to party “’til VICTORY!” But victory was postponed – at best.

As CNN’s Wolf Blitzer named Massachusetts Senator John Kerry the projected caucus winner with 38 percent of the state’s delegates and North Carolina Senator John Edwards a close second with 32 percent, I saw heads shaking, eyebrows arching, and mouths dropping open. The body language of disbelief. A moment later Blizter announced that Howard Dean, the crowd favorite and one-time frontrunner, had finished a disappointing third – with just 18 percent.

“I don't want anyone walking out of here thinking we're not going to win [the nomination],” said Michael D. Beson, New Jersey state director for Dean's presidential campaign, to the still-stunned supporters a few minutes later. They cheered as best they could.

Across campus in Pyne Hall, a group of eight undergraduates had gathered for Chinese delivery and movies. They’d tuned into CNN at about the same time as the Deaniacs, and heard the same results: Kerry then Edwards then Dean. But one man’s bad news is another’s good: unlike Triumph, Pyne was ecstatic.

“I’m very happy,” said Catesby Perrin, a politics major from Atlanta and long-time Edwards supporter. “This is a fantastic development for Edwards.” Then, noticing CNN’s footage of a red-faced Dean rallying supporters: “He looks out of control and angry.”

“He looks like a jerk,” said Suzanne Sprague, a Near Eastern Studies major from Durham, New Hampshire.
“Never liked him,” said Perrin.

Deaniacs support Dean. But the rest of us aren’t so sure about him. And therein lies the Dean Dilemma.

Early on, the former Vermont governor attracted and then mobilized a fair number of politically minded idealists with his fiery antiwar rhetoric and Internet-saavy operation. The media soon buzzed with hundreds of stories about how Dean’s campaign was really a grass-roots, web-based movement with the potential to “revolutionize” American politics. Due to increased – and mostly positive coverage – Dean surged in national polls, earning the “support” of telephone-interviewed Americans who didn’t know a whole lot about any of the candidates (and admitted they could easily change their minds). Poll numbers in hand, the media placed Dean atop the Democratic pile-up. Endorsements rolled in, and Dean managed to keep the pole position until Monday evening’s caucus results provided the punditocracy with new numbers to scrutinize.

If Iowa told us anything, it’s that in real-world terms, Dean’s base of support never expanded much beyond the “fair number of politically minded idealists” the Good Doctor had initially seduced. Last fall, campaign manager Joe Trippi cited the number of current members of Dean for America – 400,000 – as proof that the campaign would boast some 900,000 supporters by the new year; the tally has stalled at about 600,000. Similarly, some Iowa Dems, spurred by the media hype surrounding Dean, visited his website and decided he was their man; more Iowans briefly honeymooned with Dean, then a) broke off the already-fragile relationship when the press pounced on (note the quotation marks) Dean’s “gaffes,” “anger,” and “unelectability” or b) fell for the charms of other candidates, like Kerry or Edwards, who were suddenly knocking on their doors and coming across as more experienced (Kerry) or more upbeat (Edwards) than their challenger from the north. The proof is in the pudding: More than a quarter of caucus-goers described electability — an issue at the heart of Kerry and Edward’s campaigns — as a crucial consideration in their vote. Among those voters, Kerry drew 37percent and Edwards 30 percent, compared with 21 percent for Dean.

Thus the Dean Dilemma: How do you convert the small reserve of Internet intensity the candidate has mined for media buzz and cash-flow into the sort of broad-based support needed to win an election?

My answer: By showing on the ground that the candidate is appealing enough to win the votes of actual caucus-goers. That’s why Iowa, the first real test of Dean’s person-to-person appeal, might signal the Good Doctor’s downfall. After prolonged exposure to a large field of Dems, caucus-goers there overwhelmingly chose Kerry and Edwards over Dean – proving that, despite what Deaniacs might have you believe, to know him is not to love him. And that – not money or endorsements or organization – is what matters to voters in the end.

The Dean Dilemma plays out on the Princeton campus exactly as it played out Monday in Iowa. In early November, the codirectors of Princeton for Dean (grad students Joaquin Tamayo and Juan Melli-Huber) initiated a “Membership Mobilization” drive. The goal: “500 Princetonians for Dean by January 31.”

Within days, flyers asking “Got Dean?” began to cover bulletin boards from Forbes to Firestone; announcements for meet-ups and trips to New Hampshire soon followed. By December 13, the membership had grown from 73 to 212. But by the time of the Iowa caucus over a month later, PU4Dean’s expansion had petered out around 260, 240 short of the group’s original goal. As any alumnus knows, there aren’t many people at Princeton who are willing to join “movements.” And only a portion of that small minority are potential Deaniacs.

So where do the “rest of us” stand on the Democratic candidates? I haven’t heard a single student avow his or her support for Kerry – although the outcome of the Iowa caucus may earn him new believers. Wesley Clark has a devoted, if quiet, following. I spotted a single Joe Lieberman flyer posted outside the English Department offices in November, but it quickly disappeared. And as for Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich, there’s nothing doing.

Over the past few days, John Edwards is the only candidate who has gotten Princeton buzzing. Why exactly? Is it his “College for Everyone” Plan, which would provide one year of free tuition to public universities and community colleges? His promise to repeal tax cuts for the wealthy while enacting targeted middle-class tax relief? His upbringing as the son of a mill worker and a sharecropper? No, no, and no. Princetonians are no more knowledgeable about Edwards than they are about his challengers. Which is to say they know next to nothing about him.

We’re talking style here, not substance. Edwards appeals to the ideal of a Princetonian that current Princetonians hold dear. He’s handsome, charming, and quick on his feet. He has good hair. He seems sincere, passionate, and bright but not bookish. He’s gotten where he is in life on hard work and merit. He’s chosen to toil in the nation’s service, both as a trial lawyer who defended injured children and a senator. The usual criticisms of Edwards – he looks young and has little experience – don’t deter Princetonians, who are young and inexperienced themselves. And lest we forget, Edwards’s daughter Cate is a member of the Class of 2004. Several of her friends – and friends of her friends – are planning to campaign for Edwards in New Hampshire over intersession. Princetonians are nothing if not loyal.

At Triumph an hour later, after the Deaniacs had cleared out, a few Princeton students who had come for drinks and not Dean sat at the bar and watched CNN on a 15-inch, wall-mounted TV. The volume was muted, but closed captions scrolled down the lower quarter of the screen.

“I’ve been on Edwards’s email list for awhile, but I just scan the messages quickly and then delete them,” said Matt Fitzgerald, a junior from the suburbs of New York. “The Internet gets me info, but it doesn’t get me out to vote.” Then, referring to Edwards’s November fundraiser at the Nassau Inn, which Fitzgerald attended: “Personal contact, in a room or rally, motivates me more than email.”

Are you an Edwards supporter, then?

“I think Edwards’s surge is very impressive,” he said, biting into a French fry. “It’s given him a lot of momentum and legitimacy. If Edwards’ star is on the rise, then in future we’ll look to this as the moment he really got going.”

Ben Rice-Townsend, a junior from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, took a sip of his beer before interrupting Fitzgerald. “It’s a big day for Edwards, sure,” he said. “But I’m still for the Not-Bush candidate, whomever that is.”

With the primary season just beginning, each Democratic candidate – and not the media or the web – finally has the chance to prove that he’s the Not-Bush of choice, for Princetonians and for the nation at large.

Andrew Romano ’04, English major and proud New Jersey native, aspires to be the next Bruce Springsteen. Short of that, he'll settle for spending the rest of his life getting paid to write.

December 8, 2003

Student Body Politic 3: A Visit With Cate Edwards
By Andrew Romano ’04

This time next year, Cate Edwards ’05 might have to help her family pack up its belongings and move to a new house – the White House. Her father, John Edwards, is one of nine Democrats vying for the party’s nomination. I sat down with Cate on a recent Sunday in December. I wanted to know more about the life of a would-be First Daughter. She’s gregarious but guarded; casual but driven. She understands what she can and cannot say in an interview about her father – no strategy talk, no badmouthing the other Dems. Cate has learned the rules of the presidential race – but she hasn’t grown cynical. She still believes in the power of politics to move people. And most of all, she still believes in “Dad.”

So how did you react when your father told you he was running for president of the United States?
To be honest, my dad didn’t make the decision to run for president individually. It was made as a family on many levels — mom and I knew that he wanted to do it, so we were very supportive. When he finally decided he was gonna go for it, he asked our permission to make sure that we were cool with the craze that the race entails.

Is it tough to be the daughter of a presidential candidate?

Of course it’s hard simply on the level that my dad is running for president; it’s a big deal. Sometimes I just think – who am I?

On a practical level, what are the demands your father's campaign places on you?
I’ve been on the road throughout the summer and fall, speaking mainly with young people in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. While my roommate is in Hawaii for Christmas break, I’ll be traveling with my dad and family in New Hampshire and Iowa. Presidential politics just isn’t quite as glamorous as one might think.

These demands must conflict with your life as a Princeton student. Have you had to make compromises, academic or social, in order to help out with the campaign?
Of course. I’ve been gone on weekends campaigning instead of hanging out with my friends. I’ve had to shift my workload and class schedule to cater to the demands of the campaign. But since I know my dad has made much bigger sacrifices for me, it never really seems like that big of a deal to miss some of the little things.

It has to be trying. What's the worst thing about being the daughter of a man who's running for president?
The worst thing about dad running for president is his busy schedule. I wish that we could see him more often, but his schedule is pretty packed. He always makes time for me when I’m home, but all of us are definitely distracted by the campaign. The good news is, he travels up near Princeton fairly often, so I get to see him while I’m at school more than I used to.

How has having a father in the public eye — especially now as a presidential candidate — affected your life in general? Do people treat you differently?

With dad running for president, people naturally want to know how the campaign is going and are inclined to discuss issues with me. I definitely hear about and get questions about the campaign all the time, but since [running for president] is a huge thing it would be more surprising if people didn’t talk about it. Of course my friends make jokes about it all the time. I’ve gotten lots of “Are we all invited to the White House?” types of questions. Like any other change in a person’s life, it's weird until you get used to it.

Do you ever disagree with your father on political issues or campaign strategies?

I don’t think we’ve ever disagreed exactly, but I am probably a little more liberal than he is. Though this could just be a function of my age.

In general, how do you two discuss politics? Does he seek your advice?
It’s funny because my dad often talks to me like one of his political advisers. I guess in a way I am, but it took me awhile to realize the benefit he gains from understanding the opinions and ideas of our generation. He wants to hear about my interactions with kids of our generation. I certainly have a different viewpoint than his other advisers.

What exactly does he ask about these interactions?
My dad wants to know what kids are worried about in terms of policy and how he might help them. He wants to hear their ideas for policy. He wants to know is how we might engage the youth more in politics – how we can lift the disillusionment.

Have any suggestions you've made influenced his political stances or campaign strategy?
I have made some suggestions — both political and strategic — that he has taken.

I basically contributed to his thinking about young people. The policy ideas that I impacted came out of conversations I had with him, so it's hard to be specific about. And I cannot comment about strategy. Sorry!

Well, let’s talk about our generation. What impressions do you have of young voters you've met on the campaign trail? Are they disillusioned? Idealistic?
Well, of course the voters that I come across on the trail are more active than the typical youth vote. However, these young people do seem to be slightly disillusioned, and certainly concerned with the direction of politics in this country — they definitely have a sense that there is more out there, better leadership to be had. The youth is ready to look forward with optimism. I think they are looking for a leader with a good heart, integrity, and positive vision for America.

What have you learned about the presidential race from being behind the scenes?
Well, I could write my thesis on the things I’ve learned from being “behind the scenes.” Actually, that is what I’m writing my thesis about. But, in short, I’ve been a bit surprised at learning what really determines the race. The press plays a huge role. Strategy — particularly focus on early primary states — plays quite an interesting role. And the way a candidate connects with voters can be quite moving. I know that’s a funny way to describe a campaign, but I was surprised that a campaign could really move people.

How, exactly? Is there a specific scene or moment that you remember?
We were in New Hampshire and a woman asked my father a question about her husband's rising medical costs and the lack of attention that the administration gives these problems. My dad took her hand, and asked for her name, and promised to help her. You could see a tear roll down her cheek. That's when I knew we were making a difference in the lives of real people.

Have you personally moved anyone to join the Edwards camp?
I remember very well going to the National Young Dems convention in Buffalo, and I was there to talk to attendees and give them an impression of my dad and his campaign. I ended up debating with the guy running the Kucinich table for a long time. Some of the staff said when I left, [the Kucinich guy} was sure to put on an Edwards for President shirt and switch tables. It was very funny.

Speaking of humorous, what's the funniest thing that's happened on the trail?
Oh my gosh, there have been lots of funny moments on the trail. Things you can’t capture in the press — the very real moments. I guess I had the most fun when the kids – my sister Emma Claire is 5, and my brother, Jack, is 3 – requested “John Edwards signs” before one event in New Hampshire. They held them up and ran around my father during an entire stump speech he gave to a large audience. Emma Claire would occasionally stand in front of him and dance. He tried to shoo them away to concentrate, but that just wasn’t going to happen. The best part was that it seemed like such a stunt, but it was totally just the kids being kids — they really love those signs.

Have you met the other candidates' kids? Do you bond at all about being sons and daughters of candidates?

I sat in front of Al Sharpton’s daughters, who are about my age, I think, at the debate in New York. They were very funny, and able to joke about their father the way that my mom and I sometimes do — it was really nice to see that same dynamic.

How would you handle that position of First Daughter, were you thrust into it? Do you ever think of the Bush twins or Chelsea Clinton as examples – either to emulate – or not?
Well, I think I differ from [my predecessors], so it would be difficult to compare. I would hope that, were I given that position, I would be able to use it to discuss some of the issues that I find important, like education, equal rights, and AIDS.

Final question, Cate. As a college student, and not as his daughter, why will you be voting for John Edwards?
Well, there are a number of reasons that John Edwards is the best candidate in the race — and particularly for our generation. He’s optimistic, and he has visions for the future of our country and actual solutions to the problems we face today. So many young people are turned off of politics because they simply don’t trust their leaders. Well, dad is an honest, sincere leader who not only has ideas for how to change the direction that our country is headed, but also wants to hear the ideas of our generation — since it is our future in so many ways. He’s always asking me for ideas, or asking what my peers think of our country’s situation. Not only this, but he understands the problems we face — the costs of college, getting a job, obtaining health insurance just out of college, affording a place to live — and he has actual tangible solutions for these issues.

Andrew Romano ’04, English major and proud New Jersey native, aspires to be the next Bruce Springsteen. Short of that, he'll settle for spending the rest of his life getting paid to write.

November 17, 2003:

Student Body Politic 2
by Andrew Romano ’04

Why do the people at PrincetonforDean.com think "Princeton students are smarter than everyone else?"

In late October, when pollsters from the Harvard Institute of Politics asked undergrads nationwide if they approved of George W. Bush's performance in office, 61% said yes. In a Newsweek poll released November 8, 54% of the general population gave the president a thumbs-up.

But in a poll conducted by the Daily Princetonian during the first week of November, Dubya got a paltry 24% approval rating — while a whopping 58% of respondents said they disapproved of how he was handling his job.

For anyone who's been out of school for a while, that's a solid F-minus. Deanies are pleased because it seems to suggest that Princeton students — usually considered more conservative than their peers on college campuses across the country — are actually more liberal.

Not necessarily true. In the Prince, Evan Baehr ’05, president of the College Republicans, offered up this analysis of Bush's failing grade: "The recent proliferation of coverage on Democratic presidential candidates on campus has skewed the moderate voters, but only temporarily," he said. "In the spring, when Bush begins engaging the issues and the campaign is under way, Princeton will be much more evenly split."

For the most part, Baehr's right. Princeton might never be evenly split — young people tend to lean left even at this "pleasantest country club" — but the campus zeitgeist will inevitably tilt rightward once Bush begins using a projected $200 million war chest to steamroll his Democratic adversary, whoever that might be. Those 8 x 11 florescent green posters reading "Got Dean?" and "Meet Arkansas's Other Rhodes Scholar" that Dean and Clark backers have slapped up in Frist Campus Center won't have quite the same effect on Princeton's moderates come March, when a well-funded Karl Rove is manipulating public opinion.

But Bush's 24% approval rating on campus is about more than posters and meet-ups, really. It's about how conservatives at Princeton differ from conservative undergraduates at most colleges in America.

Consider a few more numbers. In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released on Halloween, 62% of Americans aged 18 to 29 approved of Bush's performance. But when asked how they would vote in the upcoming election, just 49% of these young Americans said they planned to give Bush the nod.

The lesson: With Bush and young voters, at least, job-approval doesn't necessarily equal votes. If the Prince had thought to ask its 213 respondents whether they were planning to vote Dubya or Dem in 2004, the percentages would have come back, as Baehr put it, "much more evenly split."

Although hard numbers are unavailable, I would guess that the percentage of Princeton students aligned with the G.O.P. matches closely the percentage of registered Republicans attending college nationwide; there's no reason to think otherwise. Seventy-six percent of respondents did not approve of Bush in the Prince poll — and they weren't all liberals. Many were Princeton conservatives: thoughtful right-leaners more interested in conservative ideals than blind party loyalty.

"A lot of people here who vote Republican aren't really Republicans, per se," said John Brunger ’05 — a rangy 6' 9" libertarian from Texas — over lunch in mid-November. "But they are conservatives. They know that Bush has expanded government, spent like crazy, and lied to the American people about Iraq — and they don't like it. I would never have said that I approved of Bush — I think he's done a terrible job. But I'm still going to vote for him."

Maybe PrincetonforDean.com should change its headline to "Princeton Conservatives Smarter than Counterparts at Other Colleges."

Andrew Romano ’04, English major and proud New Jersey native, aspires to be the next Bruce Springsteen. Short of that, he'll settle for spending the rest of his life getting paid to write.

October 23, 2003:
Student Body Politic
by Andrew Romano ’04

Welcome to the “Student Body Politic” weblog. During the upcoming months, I’ll use this forum to amplify the voices of my fellow student voters — smart, incisive voices that are often drowned out in the media-made cacophony of a presidential election. I’ll post entries at least once a week.

Expect sights and sounds culled from life on campus — overheard reactions to reports from the campaign trail, armchair predictions from unqualified undergrad pundits, heated debates extracted from otherwise civil dinnertime discussions.

Simply put, this blog will track Princeton's take on the presidential race as it unfolds in the national spotlight. It's for people who are no longer students but still care what students think.

October 23, 2003
Which Democratic presidential candidate have Princeton students selected as their Bush-Beater? Good question.

On Thursday, October 9, around 8 p.m., I descended the sleek new Washington Road stairs of Robertson Hall and entered the building’s basement study-bunker. I was looking for the Graduate Lounge. The eight Democratic hopefuls stood nearly continent away, in Phoenix, Arizona, straightening their mild ties and posing for one last dab of peachy foundation. Somewhere in Robertson’s underground labyrinth of minimalist decor and policy wonking, the Princeton Students for Howard Dean were holding a “Democratic Debate Watching Party” — a party at which, according to the Dean group’s email, “yellow dogs, Independents, anarchists, and Republicans [were] welcome.” I spotted the glass-walled lounge at the end of a long corridor. Remembering a recent CNN.com article on the homogeneity of Dean’s support base (young, male, white), I approached and slipped through the door, expecting more hacky-sackers than yellow dogs.

I got a motley pack of grad-student-types instead. Sipping Amstel Light and chomping on Baked Lays, all 15 ethnically diverse men and women angled toward the 30-plus inch flat-panel display as Judy Woodruff outlined the debate format. I scanned the scene. Caucasian girl with long blonde hair proudly wearing new Dean sweatshirt (“I wanted to wear it yesterday,” she said, “but it was too warm out.”). Man in mid 30s with long, steel-colored locks crouching seriously in the corner (“If anyone wants to ride up to New Hampshire for a weekend of door-to-door campaigning,” he said, “just let me know.”). Squat, frantic man with dark skin and goatee directing traffic (“Please take a flier and sign up for the Dean email list!”). Sporting a University of Vermont baseball cap, I was the only person in the room CNN.com could’ve mistaken for a traditional Dean supporter.

Few there, however, wholeheartedly supported any one candidate — Dean included. When the Doctor used his first parcel of airtime to attack newcomer Wesley Clark for a hazy stance on Iraq — initiating a series of stabs from other candidates desperate to deflate the general's ballooning poll numbers — a few students clapped and nodded; the rest cringed, realizing that Dean, the clear front-runner until recently, would spend much of the night sniping at his newest challenger rather than promoting his own agenda (a premonition that proved true and prompted the New York Times to run the headline "Democrats Fix on Clark in Phoenix Debate" Friday morning). And though Dean's cool reply to concerns regarding his proposed Medicare reforms ("First they say I'm George McGovern; now they say I'm Newt Gingrinch") raised a healthy laugh in the room, the Reverend Al Sharpton provided most of the evening's entertainment. Many found his drooping hound-dog eyes and oil-slicked coif giggle-inducing — and whenever he delivered a punch line in that rolling, rhythmic baritone, everyone just lost it.

But in the end, only the Doctor and the General mattered. Not even Sharpton’s people (let alone Princeton politicos) were deluded enough to believe the good Reverend had a shot at the White House; the rest of the donkeys, less commanding onstage than Sharpton, were summarily dismissed. To the assembled students, Gephardt looked too pasty; Lieberman too jowly; and Kerry too wooden. Edwards fared a little better — most considered him charming in a breezy collegiate way, if not presidential material. And all agreed that Carol Moseley Braun, a smiling matron, and Dennis Kucinich, a living breathing Keebler Elf, were utterly irrelevant. Clark and Dean were the main attractions — the only candidates anyone in the Graduate Lounge gave a damn about.

Really, Princeton’s Clark-Dean focus doesn’t mean much. With the first primaries still months away, passionately political students are going to channel all their energy towards one chosen candidate no matter what. They’ll try him on like a new sweatshirt, eager to see if his views fit theirs. But only 15 students cared enough to attend a screening of the Democratic debate — hardly the number necessary to constitute an on-campus consensus, let alone even a tiny trend towards one candidate. What’s that tell us?

That in Princeton - like in the rest of the country - the Democratic nomination is up for grabs.

Andrew Romano ’04, English major and proud New Jersey native, aspires to be the next Bruce Springsteen. Short of that, he'll settle for spending the rest of his life getting paid to write.