NORTHFIELD - Throughout the month of January, 20 students at St. Olaf College, along with two professors, are learning first-hand what it is like to be on the presidential campaign trail and in the thick of primary elections.

Dan Hofrenning, a professor of political science at St. Olaf College, organized the interim class which gives the students both traditional classroom learning experience and hands-on intern work for the different political candidates.

"This is a good experience for them where the study of politics meets the practice of politics," said Hofrenning, who also organized a similar class during the 2004 presidential election.

The group departed for New Hampshire on Dec. 27 and have been working virtually non-stop since. In the mornings, the students gather for class and in the afternoon intern for one of five presidential candidates who the students chose. The five candidates are Sens. Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama and Rep. Ron Paul.

"They've done everything from phoning to making signs to canvassing," Hofrenning said of the tasks each student has within their political camp. "They've experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."

Two students who felt the thrill of victory in New Hampshire were Andrew Foxwell, who campaigned for McCain, and Ana Orke, who stumped for Clinton.

Andrew Foxwell

"This has been an over-the-top learning experience," said Foxwell, 22, a senior at St. Olaf College from Menomonie, Wis. majoring in political science and business. "This is what it's like. This is how these people are."

Before the interim, Foxwell took several online quizzes, watched candidate speeches, talked with others about the candidates and read whatever he could about them in order to make a well-informed decision about the candidate he supported most. Through these tools he realized that McCain was his top choice.

Since being in New Hampshire and working on McCain's campaign - by participating in the Town Hall Meetings, making phone calls and canvassing - he believes his support of McCain has been strengthened.

"I thought we'd disagree on parts, which isn't true. It has been overwhelmingly positive that way," Foxwell said.

Foxwell also thought that McCain's slogan was a corny public relations ploy before going to New Hampshire, but has since changed his mind on the matter.

"He is an American hero and we should reward people for that," Foxwell said.

Through his experience, Foxwell has had the opportunity to see all the candidates speak, tell Katie Couric to pack her things and leave, have conversations with McCain, be in the middle of all the political action and celebrate the victory in New Hampshire.

"I'm going to take away a very important knowledge of how this plays out in my life," he said.

Ana Orke

Ana Orke's interests in politics began when she was a senior in high school. She worked as an intern for Mark Dayton in his run for Minnesota office. Now, as a sophomore at St. Olaf College, she is involved with the Dollege Democrats.

Before interim she was wavering between working on Obama's or Clinton's campaign.

"She knows her stuff and she can lead the country in the right direction," Orke, 19, of Minneapolis, said of Clinton. "She's bold and tough and that's admirable."

Throughout the campaign in New Hampshire, Orke said that she and the other interns and volunteers spent a lot of time canvassing, going door-to-door reminding people to vote and to inform them of Clinton's stance on various issues. They also held Clinton signs and cheered on the street corners and made phone calls, among other things.

She said that she like canvassing better than phoning because people were more personable and that those on the phone were rude.

Toward the end of their time in New Hampshire Orke and the other volunteers were working more intensely and putting in extremely long days. On the day of the election the team got going by 5 a.m. with a literature drop and kept going until midnight.

"We glued ourselves to the television and wouldn't celebrate until it was all over," she said. When the announcement came that Clinton was victorious she was ecstatic and stayed at headquarters to celebrate, while some of the others went to Clinton's celebration party.

"I was shocked by the intensity of everything," Orke recalls about the New Hampshire primary. "It was a very eye-opening experience. I feel much more educated and know more about words, the strategy, the players, the issues."

Today the group begins the second half of the interim class in South Carolina. While there, they will participate as they did in New Hampshire, supporting their candidates and learning even more about the political campaign process.

"It's a chance to get a front row seat at one of the marquee events of American presidential politics," Hofrenning said.

- Andrea Nelson can be reached at anelson@northfieldnews.com or 507-744-2551.

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