Kids get taste of Obama-Romney differences
JANESVILLE A key to reaching voters is knowing who they are and what they get excited about. That is as true for adults as it is for children.
Case in point: the mock election rallies that some Parker High School students are putting on for grade-school kids across the city this week.
The rallies started Monday, with students from Joe Van Rooy's AP government class playing the roles of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, their spouses, staffs and Secret Service agents.
Mitt Romney, played by John Muetz, managed to reach the kids on the difficult topic of trade policy. He said he wanted a trade policy that works for America.
"We will get there by cracking down on nations like China that think it's OK to cheat and steal American jobs," Muetz said. "Do you think it's OK to cheat?"
"Nooooooo!" students responded at Madison and Washington elementary schools, where a Gazette reporter watched the proceedings Monday.
Barack Obama, played by Austin Kessler, had a similar trick: "You've all been sick, right? Where do you go when you're sick?"
"To the doctor."
"That's right, but in America some people can't afford to go to the doctor. That's why I think every American should have health care," Kessler said.
The kids cheered.
The events began with Van Rooy encouraging politeness.
"Even if we don't agree with what the other side has to say, we're going to listen respectfully because that's what adults do, right?" Van Rooy asked the kids at Madison School.
"Yeah," the kids responded in unison.
"Actually we're going to be better than the adults," Van Rooy said.
Both sides tried to score points on immigration, education, foreign and energy/environmental policy.
They had repeated their speeches at six schools by the time they got to Washington Elementary School.
"It was very Democratic at all the public schools," said Emily Richardson, one of the faux Secret Service agents.
"They were very Republican at the private school," added Agent Emma Frerichs.
The one private school the group visited Monday was St. Mary Catholic, which is Paul Ryan's alma mater.
The high school students said they enjoyed the day and remembered when they were sitting on the floor, listening to the speeches in 2004.
Kessler said most of the Parker students were representing the party they favor, but not all of them. They all traveled in the same yellow school bus.
"It's civil. We all get along on the bus," Kessler said.
It was not perfectly civil at Washington, where boos could be heard when the Republicans were introduced. The school district would not allow a reporter to speak to students, but they showed their preferences by cheering heartily, mostly for Obama.
The mock campaigns will lead to mock elections in public and private elementary schools on Friday. At each stop, Van Rooy encouraged kids to vote Friday and to urge their parents to vote Nov. 6.
Van Rooy said his students worked on their speeches on their own. The teacher's only restriction was that they could not resort to personal attacks.
"It's important to me that we model good civic discourse between the candidates, and I wish the (real) candidates would stick to the issues and not go negative," he said. "I want the students to see it can be done in a clean way.
"I think it's going to help down the road when they become voting citizens."