by Max Kramer
“Welcome to the University of Delaware, the epicenter of politics.” Former CNN Correspondent and UD Professor Ralph Begleiter’s voice echoed throughout a sold out Mitchell Hall on one of the most memorable nights in University of Delaware history. Professor Begleiter’s National Agenda course brought the two candidates from the Delaware Senate race to the Mitchell Hall stage for the only formal nationally televised debate of the campaign season. This race was thrust into the national spotlight after Republican Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell defeated longtime Delaware Congressman Mike Castle in the September primary. Emotions and excitement ran high as Chris Coons, Democratic New Castle County Executive, and his Republican opponent, Christine O’Donnell, walked onto the stage with Delaware First Media’s Nancy Karabjanean and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Signs and supporters of both candidates lined The Green throughout the evening. The campus was a media circus. CNN even broadcasted Blitzer’s “The Situation Room” from right outside Smith Hall, and the Foreign Press Corps came for a piece of the action to see American democracy and campaigning at work.
This was just one example in what is turning out to be an unbelievable experience in Professor Begleiter’s National Agenda course. We have seen Patti Solis Doyle, Hillary Clinton’s former Presidential campaign manager and longtime confidant, and Ken Vogel, a renowned journalist from POLITICO.com. Part of the course involves bringing guest speakers like these to campus, and the series has been a huge success to date. The series continued just days after the debate when Karl Rove and Howard Dean, celebrated political figures on their respective sides of the aisle, shared the stage at the Bob Carpenter Center to discuss contemporary political issues. The talk got rather heated on issues like immigration and the economy. The speaker series closed with David Plouffe, President Obama’s campaign manager, who discussed the results of the midterm elections.
But the course is not all about the speakers. For myself and other students in the Honors section of National Agenda, the course has given us the opportunity to do something we would probably never have done had it not been for Professor Begleiter and this class. One of the Honors assignments involved going around campus collecting questions from students. We screened them and chose which ones would be best to ask the candidates in the senatorial debate as well as the debate between John Carney (Democrat) and Glen Urquhart (Republican), candidates for the House of Representatives. Choosing the questions was a tough process, but it really taught us what we need to look for when deciding what to ask candidates running for such high profile political offices. We essentially controlled the flow of a half hour of each debate with these questions, so they needed to be chosen wisely. The student question portion of each debate turned out to be a huge success and some of our fellow classmates were even on CNN!
For myself and other students in the Honors section of National Agenda, the course has given us the opportunity to do something we would probably never have done had it not been for Professor Begleiter and this class.
My venture into American politics has included interning for Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy from New York and working on political campaigns ranging from a New York State Senate race to a campaign in the Democratic Primary for New York State Attorney General. As I continue on my journey, I know that I will take these experiences of watching and listening to what the National Agenda speakers had to say and of choosing the questions for the debates (an experience that has led me to understand what issues are most important to various candidates), along with me for the ride. The National Agenda course and speaker series is an incredible program that has been shared with our entire campus this fall. Although Election Day has passed, we still have plenty to talk about as this country moves forward into a new era of American politics with the recent shift of power in Congress.