In New Hampshire, Tony Boarding School Welcomes Candidates
None of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination attended the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H. But six of them descended upon the school’s bucolic campus at some point in the months leading up to last week’s New Hampshire primary.
While the candidates have been hitting school gyms and auditoriums all over Iowa, New Hampshire, and other states for “town hall” meetings, Phillips Exeter was particularly successful in luring a large number of Democratic hopefuls.
Even for Democrats, who consider their party the voice of the working class, an appearance at the elite boarding school was apparently not considered too politically risky as they chased New Hampshire voters.
Principal Tyler C. Tingley said in an interview last week that politically active students at the academy joined with their counterparts at public Exeter High School to invite all the Democratic candidates. Those who accepted were former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, who has since quit the race, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, U.S. Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, and former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont.
“We are delighted to have all the candidates,” Mr. Tingley said. “It’s really an honor.”
Officials at the school note that it has been visited by presidential candidates for decades, thanks in part to a now-retired dean who was particularly tenacious getting campaigns to accept the invitations.
Some of the Democrats may have felt more at home than others in a prep school environment. When Sen. Kerry addressed an assembly at Exeter on Jan. 21, after his victory in the Iowa caucuses, he pointed out that he attended rival St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H.
The audience reportedly hooted, but the senator quickly mentioned that he had had the “wisdom” to hire an Exeter graduate as his chief of staff and to marry a woman, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who had served on Exeter’s board of trustees.
Mr. Dean drew an overflow crowd of students and community members when he spoke Jan. 26 at Exeter’s Assembly Hall, one day before the New Hampshire vote.
The academy also drew a visit from CNN, whose campaign bus rolled up and produced such cable news shows as “Inside Politics” and “Crossfire” from the campus for a day.
“These students are interfacing with real people and hearing what they have to say about the issues,” said Jacquelyne Weatherspoon, the faculty adviser to Exeter’s Democratic Club. “They’re getting firsthand experience in what happens on the ground in a political campaign. It’s great experience.”
New Hampshire students have voted in their first-ever mock primary and the winner is: Sen. Kerry.
The mock vote, held last month as part of the National Student/Parent Mock Election, was closer than the results of the real New Hampshire primary, which Sen. Kerry won by a substantial margin over Mr. Dean. In the student vote, Mr. Kerry got 28 percent to Mr. Dean’s 23 percent. Mr. Clark came in third with 19 percent, followed by Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina with 8 percent; Sen. Lieberman, 7 percent; the Rev. Al Sharpton, 6 percent; and Rep. Kucinich, 3 percent.
Participants in the first Iowa mock caucus had selected Mr. Dean, even as their parents and other adult voters put Mr. Kerry in first place. (“Dean Strikes a Chord With One Constituency: Iowa’s Younger ‘Voters,’” Jan. 28, 2004.)
—Natasha N. Smith