Students on front row of New Hampshire presidential primary

HAMDEN, Conn. (AP) — Nineteen students at Quinnipiac University are getting a chance to shape history in New Hampshire.

They are spending five days Manchester, N.H., getting an inside look at the political process by volunteering for their favorite presidential candidate leading up to the state’s primary on Tuesday. They left on Friday.

“I’m hoping that they’ll understand you can’t understand campaigns unless you get off the sidelines for awhile,” said their professor, Scott McLean. “They’re becoming more sophisticated on the issues and the candidates.”

The students are part of McLean’s class on presidential elections. Among them are Senaj Mersim, 21, a Watertown native in her junior year majoring in political science and legal studies, and John Hangen, 18, a freshmen political science major from Cheshire.

Mersim is volunteering for former Vice President Joe Biden while Hangen is a Republican who supports Democrat Andrew Yang. Both said they are eager to do the grassroots, shoe-leather work critical to launching a candidate into the presidency, including door knocking, sign holding and dragging voters to the polls.

“You work there and you get to tell people what you’ve done and you’re surrounded by all these people who talk about politics whereas in everyday life you’re not,” Mersim said.

Hangen, wearing a gray Junior State of America sweater, a youth activism group, said Wednesday he’s interested in comparing the differences between the local campaigns he’s worked on and a national one.

“I really wanted to see the dichotomy between state campaigns and their organizations and local campaigns and then this national structure,” he said. “I want to work in campaigns so seeing this perspective of people who actually work in the jobs I want to do is really cool.”

Both students agreed the New Hampshire primary has taken on more importance in the wake of the Iowa Democratic Party’s inability to report the full election results nearly two days after the caucus.

While Mersim is throwing her support behind Biden because of his experience, Hangen has switched affiliations to volunteer for Yang.

“I’m a registered Republican but he was one I supported more than anyone currently in the Republican party,” Hangen said. “I just value my moral values more than my political values and I couldn’t support who’s going to win.

“He’s one I can also see other fellow young Republicans voting for if he did go on and win the primary,” he added.

Neither student is discouraged by the political polarization the country is experiencing, arguing that voters are paying more attention to the election as a result.

“I think it’s because of the president, because people are so passionate either way,” Hangen said. “Everyone is becoming more informed because of him.”

“As much as he’s on the TV people are talking about it more, even if they’re saying different things,” Mersim said. “They learn from talking to other people.”

McLean’s class is split among most of the popular candidates. During the course of his class Wednesday, students voiced support for President Donald Trump, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Yang and Biden.

Two students sparked a passionate but polite debate when they echoed a conspiracy theory, since reported by The Associated Press to be false, about ties to the company whose app failed in getting timely results at the Iowa caucus.

“The other thing they’re starting to see is they know they’re on different campaigns, maybe different parties, but they see each other and know each other. The kind of division and nastiness that we often see in the media and in political institutions, these guys have deep disagreements but they still stay friends and acquaintances, they keep it friendly,” McLean said. “And that gives me a lot of hope.”