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University Hosts Unique Event To Match Up Young Voters With Presidential Candidates

Ohioans will go to the polls to vote in the presidential primaries next week. But some students at an Ohio university have already voted in a mock convention – and were introduced to the Republican presidential candidates in an unusual way.

"Speed dating" is a concept that caters to single people – it’s a fast-paced way to find out important things about several people in a short period of time.  But is not an exercise that you’d think of when you think of presidential candidates. But organizers of the mock convention at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware decided that might be a good way to introduce them.  Emma Drongowski was the mock convention’s co-chair. “We wanted something interactive, fun and engaging. So each member of the executive board is mimicking a Republican candidate. Students can come around and ask us questions. We’ve all done a lot of research on our candidates,” Drongowski said.

OWU’s mock convention features only the candidates for the party not in power, so the attendees were only looking at the Republican candidates. The speed dating event takes place in a large banquet room on campus. There are several tall cocktail tables and at each, there is a student who is either pretending to be the candidate or acting as their surrogate based on research they conducted on where candidates stood on issues. Senior Emily Feldmesser pretended to be Ohio Gov. John Kasich when she answered a question from a handful of students about student debt: “I have increased state funding for public universities and have capped universities from raising the cost of their annual tuition in 2016 which means in the 2017 fiscal year, nothing will increase.” The acting candidates and surrogates have only a few short minutes to talk to students at their table before they hear this.

Then, the bell means it’s time to move on to another table and meet another candidate. Some of the candidates featured at this convention have since dropped out of the race. Sophomore Chris Dobeck of the Cleveland area posed as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Here’s what happened when students at his table questioned his conservative credentials by asking if he was more moderate than John Kasich.  “I’m not the hard line. I’m the Bernie Sanders of the Republican Party. I’m not a neo-con. I’m not a mainline of the party here," Dobeck responded as "Sen. Paul". "The rest of the guys in the Senate here don’t like me because I tend to vote alongside the Democrats if I think that’s what the nation needs.”

Ashley Biser, an associate professor of politics and government at OWU, says the mock convention is always a scaled down version of the real thing. And she said the candidates "speed dating", which is a new activity in this year’s convention, was the students’ idea. "We were talking about ways to help to inform the campus about the different issues and the students really thought this would be a good way to move through a lot of different candidates quickly and to get to know their positions,” Biser said.

Biser said the mock convention, which is open to all OWU students, enjoys good attendance. More than 400 were part of this year’s event. And Biser said the convention has a pretty good track record over time in picking the eventual winners. “It really varies. Sometimes we have been eerily accurate. We predicted Geraldine Ferraro for her vice presidential run long before anybody else did," Biser said. "And then sometimes, we’ve been pretty far off for political reasons and sometimes just for fun.” Case in point: In 2012, the mock convention nominated comedian Stephen Colbert for vice president.

So who has the mock convention chosen to be the Republican Presidential candidate this year? John Kasich.

Contact Jo Ingles at