Students navigate both sides of campaign trail in New Hampshire primary

For Jamison “Jamie” Setzler ’25, it seemed the perfect conclusion to a week spent studying the nation’s first 2024 presidential primary. Exercising her right to vote as a New Hampshire resident. 

Accompanied by her Quinnipiac political science seminar classmates and their professor, Scott McLean, Setzler approached the New Boston Central School polling location, gave a small wave to her team and walked inside to add her voice to the tradition of democracy. 

“I’m a New Hampshire native but this is the first primary where I’m old enough to vote,” said Setzler. “Throughout this experience, it’s been interesting to apply what I’ve learned in class and view this place that I’ve grown up in through a different lens. It’s exciting while still educational.”

Arriving on Thursday, the 19 students spent six days crossing the state to engage with candidates for president of the United States, including Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Marianne Williamson, Dean Phillips and former President Donald Trump, who would go on to win the NH primary election on Tuesday. 

The students posed for photos with candidates, asked questions from the audience and witnessed the traditions that make the New Hampshire primary an attraction for political tourists across the country.

Political Science Professor Scott McLean has been bringing Quinnipiac students to New Hampshire every four years since 2000. He explains that one of the objectives of the seminar is to provide opportunities for students to immerse themselves in all aspects of the political culture of the 2024 primary election.

“There are people who come here just for the oddity of seeing a presidential candidate. We’re here to observe the places and events as they are embedded in party nomination rules,” said McLean. “While in New Hampshire, we will study the decades-old evolution of the primary from the early ‘beauty contest’ era, to its ‘weeding out’ role and to the modern media spectacle and political Disneyland that it has become."

Political star-watching became a favorite pastime for the students as well. In addition to the candidates, the students met up with United States Representative Elise Stefanik, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, American commentator Chris Matthews and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Shouts of recognition heralded mini-reunions with Quinnipiac alumni such as WMUR9 News Reporter Hannah Cotter ’19 and Katherine Koretski ’18, NBC News campaign embed, who quickly recognized the Bobcat branded gear worn by the students. The group even persuaded candidates Williamson and Phillips to join them in the Bobcat swipe.

Taking a break from rallies, town halls and diner appearances over the weekend, students also toured the New Hampshire State Library and State House, attended a roundtable by the New Hampshire Young Republicans and visited polling locations on election day. Along the way, the students fielded interviews from the bank of political reporters at each event, including international outlets as far away as Norway and Japan. 

“I think Generation Z is vastly underrated by the older generations. This is the generation that is highly educated, diverse, aware of issues and willing to do something about them,” said McLean. “They’re also a generation that votes. In the last three elections, 18-24-year-olds broke every record for their age group in voter turnout. They hold the key to this election.” 

National media spotlights Quinnipiac

The youth and energy of the students also attracted the attention of campaign managers and event coordinators. More than once, the QU group found themselves strategically placed in the foreground of candidate appearances and dutifully held signs and cheered when prompted. Searching through social media posts for photos of themselves and each other became a regular activity during the downtime between events.   

For Carson Laundry ’24, learning about McLean’s New Hampshire primary seminar was one of the reasons he chose to attend Quinnipiac. 

“This class was one of the things that reaffirmed my decision to come to Quinnipiac,” said Laundry. “It’s a lot different than what I expected overall. I assumed we would be standing with the media and observing the events from a distance. But meeting the candidates personally has been interesting, especially when we heard that DeSantis was dropping out only days after we met him. That was surprising.” 

The announcement that changed the race

While attending Sunday’s town hall with candidate Marianne Williamson, phones began to light up as the group chat thread became a virtual parade of texts with news spreading quickly and silently from phone to phone. After days of speculation, Ron DeSantis had just announced he was dropping out of the 2024 presidential race.

“Officially endorsed Trump now”
“There goes Haley”

The calm, polite demeanor of the students never wavered as the significance of the moment was marked in real-time with news links quickly researched, posted and shared among the group, all as Williamson continued her speech. Someone pointed out that only two days before, political science major Nick Fizzano ’25, had asked DeSantis directly about the sustainability of his campaign, and was assured it was strong.

As the president of Quinnipiac University Democrats, most people would be surprised to hear Fizzano name the Trump rally as one of the week’s high points. But he saw it as an opportunity to engage with voters on the other side of the political aisle and deepen his understanding of what is driving today’s political culture. 

“From a historic vantage point, it’s interesting to see traditional New Hampshire politics clash with Trump-style rallies and these larger events,” said Fizzano. “In the past, you had more of a retail politics environment here, people wouldn’t vote for you unless they knew you. Your biggest captains and supporters were folks whose homes you visited, and you had policy speeches in their living rooms. But now it’s changed with these massive rallies that I think have a harder edge than New Hampshire has ever experienced.”

Quinnipiac students attend a rally for former President Trump

Fizzano and a group of students waited in line for a total of almost seven hours to attend Saturday’s Trump rally in Manchester. The group endured three hours in freezing temperatures to secure a coveted spot among the first 50 people in line, occupying their time with distractions from the cold with games, while observing the political theater that surrounded them. 

It was the unscripted moments with voters that resonated the most with sophomore Allison Garner ’26. 

“When you hear the same speech for the third time, you begin to realize the little tactics in play, like scheduled interruptions. It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors,” said Garner. “That’s why a conversation I had with two women at the Nikki Haley event really stands out to me. While we waited, we started a friendly debate and quickly learned we were both from Massachusetts. Ultimately, we discovered we shared a lot of common ground.”

Setzler, who was also part of the exchange, added that the conversation was comfortable and open as the four discussed their opinions and talked about the specific qualities they look for in a candidate. 

“My high point was definitely talking to the women at the Haley event,” said Setzler. “Because I feel like that is at the heart of why we’re here. To not only observe the candidates, but to get to know their base and find out who they’re supporting, and more importantly, why.”  

For first-year political science major Ava Lanoue ’27, witnessing the first-in-the-nation primary for the 2024 presidential election was a uniquely Quinnipiac learning opportunity that only a few could share. For her, it was a once in a lifetime college opportunity.

“I learned about this experience right after I committed to QU, and I immediately realized I’m never going to have a chance to do this again,” said Lanoue. “The next time this rolls around in four years, I’m not going to be in college anymore. I knew this would be an incredible experience that I couldn’t let pass me by.”

Photo of the rally with former President Donald Trump by Jack Spiegel '24

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