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Following the trail: Students practice path to the presidency

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ANN MARIE AMES
October 24, 2008
— The first stop is easy.

Fans chant and shake signs bearing your name.


The next rally is in a windy parking lot. Afterward, you dash to the bus to try and fix Gov. Sarah Palin's hair, but a news reporter sticks a recorder in your face.


Secret Service agents clear an elementary school for the day's third rally, and you stride into a gym full of screaming fans.


You step to the mic, and your opponent's fans moan.


It's tough out there on the campaign trail.


Parker High School AP government students learned that lesson quickly Thursday morning at the beginning of a two-day campaign "tour" of Janesville's elementary schools. The stumping will wrap up today, and on Tuesday elementary students will cast their votes.


The results will be broadcast live starting at 1 p.m. on Janesville cable access Channel 96 and Channel 993.


"It's nice to get out of the classroom and let them put what they've learned to work," said teacher Joe VanRooy. "It gives them a chance to see how hard campaigning really can be."


Nine students played the part of presidential and vice-presidential candidates Sens. John McCain, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin. Other students worked as speechwriters, Republican and Democratic national committee chairmen, media contacts and candidates' spouses.


On the bus between stops at Lincoln and Van Buren elementaries—yes, the parties shared one school bus—students told The Janesville Gazette they'd been working for two weeks to get ready for the event. They devoted 15 minutes of class time daily to the "campaign," and spent a lot of time outside of school researching, creating costumes and collecting campaign signs and fliers.


Speechwriters gathered background and put together parts of speeches, said senior Jason Knutson, who played the role of the Democratic National Committee chairman. He helped coordinate the speeches into one for the three "Obamas" to deliver, he said.


Knutson and senior Steven Hudy both ended up as last-minute "Bidens" when other classmates decided they weren't up to the big crowds at the schools.


"I didn't find out I was Biden until yesterday," Hudy said.


The speeches hit highlights of candidates' policies on the environment, taxes, the economy and the Iraq war. Candidates stuck to the issues and avoided mud slinging. Between each talking point, the elementary school audiences clapped enthusiastically, sometimes lead by teachers and sometimes on their own.


Several candidates reminded listeners to go home and remind parents and older siblings to vote.


The candidates were all smiles for their young fans. But back on the bus, they let their frustrations show. The students have spent weeks or more studying the issues and even talking about them with their friends outside of class.


They know their stuff, but most of them are 17 and can't vote.


From seats around the bus they spoke up, hoping Janesville voters will remember to register and take the time to vote.


Jon Olson, 17, who played the parts of McCain and Todd Palin, put it bluntly.


"There's no excuse not to vote."



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