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Report from New Hampshire 
Students on the primary trail

The Dean campaign: Where it all leads to

Read all the dispatches >
About the New Hampshire project

During the week preceding the Jan. 27 New Hampshire presidential primary, the NewsCenter will feature coverage written by three Berkeley students working for the campaigns of Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich.

The students are enrolled in UC Berkeley's Washington Program Office. Michael Goldstein, program director, says the New Hampshire primary provides students in the program with hands-on experience in politics, bridging the gap between what they learn in the classroom and the reality of hardball politics. Later, the students will write research papers on the presidential selection process, and present their findings at an April public forum. Learn more about the Washington Program's "campaign capstone"

– After a week of absolutely hectic but enlightening labor working for the Howard Dean campaign, the big primary election day came. On a frosty morning, we set out at 5 a.m. for the polling ward where we were assigned for the day. I delivered signs to the Dean volunteers who were to create "visibility" at polling wards, and prepared myself for a very long day. Fourteen hours later, the polls closed and I awaited the final numbers from my ward. The results were depressing, to say the least.

Among the Democratic nominees, Gov. Dean finished second, behind Sen. John Kerry. Volunteers for other candidates might have been pleased with this result. But I felt almost like the past week's grueling efforts had been in vain. It didn't help that fellow Cal student and Dean worker Jenny Felsen's numbers were similar to mine, deepening the melancholy.

Yesterday was certainly not the best day. Over the past week, the excitement of attempting to close the gap on John Kerry had gotten my spirits and hopes up. Our campaign had hoped for a surging first-place victory; instead, we ended up with a solid second-place finish.

I have to admit I was not prepared for this. I remained uncharacteristically quiet during what was supposed to be a campaign victory party. During that day, I had experienced firsthand the power of the democratic process: voters decide the outcome, and not simply how many people and how much effort lies behind a candidate and his campaign.

At the party, at long last Gov. Dean came out to deliver his speech, and I was convinced that the bleachers I was sitting on would collapse from everyone's stomping and screaming. No one expected another Iowa speech, which may have been why the audience chose to represent Dean's immense energy with its incessant cheering. Once again, hearing Gov. Dean inspired me and reminded me of why I asked to be placed in his campaign. I believe that he genuinely cares about the people and strives to address their issues and improve their situations. He transmitted in his speech the spirit and energy to continue his march towards the White House, and I believe he can still do it.

Later, discussing the results with other staff members and my fellow students, I believe I gained a more objective view of the race. The turnout for Dean was not completely disheartening. He had, after all, received 26%, which is lower than we hoped for, but still not a bad number and a major improvement from previous polls. The campaign must now look ahead.

All of us flew back into Washington, D.C., early Wednesday morning, still sleep-deprived, but with a new and more knowledgeable view of politics and campaigning. Even our flight back was a bit of an adventure. Fox News broadcaster Greta Van Susteren was on the same plane, and Tucker Carlson, host of CNN's Crossfire, sat next to me and fellow UC Berkeley student Hanna Siddiqui. Learning that we were students who had worked on campaigns for a week, he shared his own views on the campaign. When I told him of my love for Chaucer, he began to deliver the prologue to "The Canterbury Tales" in Middle English, and I joined in his recitation.

The flight back reinforced my impressions of this truly unique experience. It has allowed us to participate in the creation of politics. We have encountered the candidates, served on the campaign staff, and met the press. We can now speak about politics and how it affects us in more personal, pragmatic, and significant ways. Our weeklong adventure in New Hampshire will reverberate throughout our academic studies and lives. We were not just studying political science; we were helping shape it, and not every student gets the chance to do that. I extend my utmost gratitude to everyone who made this trip possible.

– Gary Li

Gary K. Li was born and raised in San Francisco and graduated from San Francisco School of the Arts High School in instrumental music. Li studied classical music for 10 years. He is a third-year English and American Studies major at Berkeley, is enrolled in the Washington Program this semester, and will be interning in the office of Senator Hillary Clinton. Li, who is fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin, is a film and trivia buff and has an "insatiable love for the sport of reading." He says he is planning to get a graduate degree in English literature or law. Or maybe both.