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Larchmont Students Get Swept Up in Political Process

MAMARONECK, N.Y. – Student Harrison Frank saw himself as a Democrat because his parents were Democrats, not uncommon in Westchester. But experiences from his AP Government and Politics class, and recent field trip to New Hampshire to work on a Republican campaign, has him reevaluating that label.

Frank, 17, was one of 64 Mamaroneck High School students who took a three-day field trip from Jan. 8 to Jan. 10 to Manchester, N.H. for the Republican primary. But, they weren't going to just observe, rather, they volunteered for one of the four GOP candidates.

Students had their choice of the campaigns for Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman or Ron Paul. Frank volunteered for Paul, and now said he wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.

"I think it was definitely an out-of-body experience," said Frank, a Larchmont resident, who noted how many young volunteers Paul's campaign attracted. "There's nothing like this experience in New York. Working with that campaign, you start meeting these people who are extremely passionate about it, you couldn't help getting caught up in it."

Frank compared the feeling to rooting for your football team and against the opponent, something his AP Government teacher Joe Liberti, who organized the trip, was hoping for. "The one thing I hope for them to take away is the visceral response surrounding retail politics," Liberti said.

What Liberti couldn't predict is how well his students would respond. "All of the students really got into, I was really amazed," he said. "This is the first time they were thrown into a situation where they were very much in the minority, and it was very uncomfortable for them, in a good way."

Frank's first phone call on behalf of the campaign ended in a bitter hang-up over the issue of Medicare, he said. But his next call was a different story. "She was between Ron Paul and Santorum," he said. "By the end of the phone call, she said, 'I will definitely be voting for Ron Paul.' I'd say that was the point where it all clicked for me."

For Emma Badner, her experience campaigning for the Jon Huntsman campaign didn't change her position, but did give her a better understanding of the other side of the arguments. Similarly, Michelle Hoffner, who campaigned for Mitt Romney, said she "gained an appreciation for their beliefs," talking about Republicans.

"They grow up and they just have their own views, supported with very little substance," Liberti said. "Here's a chance to realize the other side is thoughtful too and that they might need to do more of their own homework if they're going to label themselves something."

By the end of the trip Tuesday afternoon, Frank had come to a tipping point. "It started waning when the course began, and by the time the trip was over I saw myself as an Independent," he said.

The Larchmont resident said he plans to register to vote in the New York primary April 24, and that he will most likely vote for Paul.

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