Prospect woman receives lesson in primary politics

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Tara McMahon, a Quinnipiac University student of Prospect, works at the Manchester, N.H., campaign office for Democratic President Barack Obama. McMahon is among 28 students at Quinnipiac who are participating in an advanced-level seminar on presidential campaigns. CONTRIBUTED

PROSPECT — Three months ago, the political scene in Manchester, N.H., offered a more tranquil setting. Now just days from the New Hampshire primary, the place is buzzing.

And Tara McMahon of Prospect, a political science senior at Quinnipiac University, is in the thick of it with a group of 27 fellow students.

“It’s been a complete whirlwind,” McMahon said Saturday afternoon.

The 21-year-old student is among 28 Quinnipiac students participating in an advanced-level seminar, “Presidential Campaigns,” which is taught by Scott McLean, a political-science professor at the Hamden-based university.

They visited New Hampshire in October for a first dip into campaign work of a candidate of their choice, returned to the Granite State in November and came back Jan. 2 to stay through the Republican presidential primary on Tuesday.

McLean offers the course every four years, and has been since the 2000 election, according to a news release from the university.

It is one of the few programs in the United States that combines an internship in the campaign of the student’s choice with an analysis of the history, processes and techniques of grassroots politics in the presidential nomination system.

“Reflecting together on their initial experience, then returning again for increasingly intense experiences, makes the students really able to evaluate why their work mattered and how the campaigns evolve as they get closer to primary day,” McLean said in the release.

“I see a major change in the attitudes of most of my students. Some are idealistic. Some are pessimistic, but almost all of them care more about the issues and believe they are part of the process of moving the country in a better direction.”

McMahon said overall she has a better understanding of how the primary and campaign works.

She’s been asked a lot why she is doing this during Christmas break, and she said she couldn’t not do it.

“I couldn’t say no,” McMahon said. “I had to jump on it.”

McMahon has always been interested in politics, she said, and to experience something like this first hand is amazing.

Once she completes this course, she is set to graduate this month. She is applying for a 12-week fellowship in the spring with the campaign for Democratic President Barack Obama.

Obama is the candidate she chose to volunteer for during the seminar. She has made calls to voters, participated in canvassing and has been helping with digital media — including blogging, tweeting and taking videos.

McMahon has seen the Republican candidates in action from watching Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, give a speech at a local school, to viewing a protest of younger voters at an event for Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator. She has seen CNN do a live taping, too.

She said the class is split evenly among the candidates’ camps. About 10 are with the Obama campaign; five to seven with Republican presidential candidates, Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul; two were with Texas Gov. Rick Perry but are now with Santorum; and one with Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor.

McMahon said she has surprisingly run into voters who didn’t realize they could cast a vote for Obama in the Republican primary.

One of the most important things she has learned here is how important grassroots organization is, she said. To check out some of her volunteer work, go online to www.barackobama.com/NH.