Federal File

May 29, 2002 1 min read

Spin Doctorate

Many students say they want to grow up to become president. But how many want to be the Karl Rove or the James Carville of a future generation?

A new learning tool from the University of Virginia may inspire them to one day fill the roles of the trusted political advisers of, respectively, President Bush and President Clinton.

“A More Perfect Union” is a CD-ROM that turns students into campaign managers for a U.S. Senate race in the mythical state of Franklin. (A three-county area now in eastern Tennessee, in fact, sought to become the state of Franklin in the 1780s)

Students choose from among several scenarios, deciding, for instance, to work for either a Democrat or Republican, an incumbent or a challenger. They study demographics, order polls, buy advertising, and schedule their candidates’ time.

“We’re trying to put them in the shoes of a campaign manager, and there is no textbook that can really do that,” said Joshua J. Scott, the communications director for the university’s Center for Politics.

Just as in real campaigns, the CD-ROM throws some political curveballs. Students may have to decide whether to accept a contribution from a tainted corporation or to buy video footage of the opponent cavorting with a woman who is not his wife.

While the main goal is to win the election, students also win points based on such factors as how well they spent ad dollars.

“It is best to run positive ads first,” says a strategy guide. “But negative ads do work, so you should use them.”

The CD-ROM is available free to teachers who register for the university’s Youth Leadership Initiative. Information is available at

For the record, Federal File’s first try at the game resulted in a loss by its candidate, the Democratic challenger, to the Republican incumbent, 54 percent to 46 percent. But we earned 44 out of a possible 60 game points. And we gave back that tainted campaign contribution.

—Mark Walsh

A version of this article appeared in the May 29, 2002 edition of Education Week