Students take center stage as presidential candidates

Students at the Claremont Colleges got the opportunity of a lifetime to represent their favorite presidential candidate at a Pomona College forum on Wednesday.

The event was a special live episode of KPCC’s AirTalk with Larry Mantle, the first live broadcast on the road for the well-known radio show in several years, according to Mr. Mantle. Five students took to the stage at the Rose Hills Theater to make the case for their candidates to audience members, as well as people listening into the program, who were encouraged to vote for their favorite student surrogate.

“This is a great opportunity to be on a campus with five different institutions, their students, their faculty members can come join us in conversation.” Mr. Mantle said.

The program kicked off with a panel of political scientists from the colleges, including Dr. Zachary Courser from Claremont McKenna College, Dr. Lorn Foster from Pomona College, Dr. David Menefee-Libey from Pomona College and Dr. Vanessa Tyson from Scripps College.

The faculty members flexed their expert knowledge on the increasingly exciting presidential primaries, from the real chances of former Ohio Governor John Kasich—who scored a come-from-behind second place finish in the New Hampshire primary—to the neck-and-neck contention of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders.

But the stars of the show were the students, who convincingly appealed to the theater crowd and those listening to that station that their candidate was the right person for the job.

The first panel was all Republican—Pomona College freshman Connor Duffy represented Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Claremont McKenna College senior John Marshall stumped for Donald Trump and Pomona sophomore Matthew Reade represented Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Mr. Marshall painted Mr. Trump as the “anti-establishment” candidate, not beholden to the politics-as-usual discourse that, he said, many of the Republican electorate is sick of.

When Mr. Mantle pressed Mr. Marshall about a specific plan from Trump, he responded that a specific plan would work, but added that getting “bogged down in specifics” would not resonate with how America votes today.

Mr. Reade, stumping for Mr. Rubio, made the largest impression with the crowd. He brushed off his candidate’s disappointing fifth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary and defended Mr. Rubio from the now-infamous attacks of repeated talking points from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

“It was an interesting attack, especially coming from Chris Christie who has repeated verbatim multiple times in multiple debates how he’s going to prosecute the case against Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Reade said.

Mr. Reade slammed Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz as being “terrifyingly off message” and only focused on getting the most media attention.

After the students spoke, Mr. Reade received over 70 percent of the vote from audience members and listeners.

On the Democratic side, CMC freshman Justin Rodriguez represented Mr. Sanders and Scripps junior Mia Shackelford represented Ms. Clinton. Both students debated about economic policies, Ms. Clinton’s struggles with the youth vote and unemployment.

“Bernie Sanders is speaking to the middle class in America and bringing up issues we have known for a very long time,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “I like his candidacy, his honesty on stage, and he gives me hope as a Latino man, first generation, that in ten years the economy will be something I can benefit off of and for generations after that.”

Mr. Rodriguez mentioned his candidate’s promise to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour as an example of his forward-thinking policies.

Ms. Shackelford agreed that income inequality is a pressing issue in 2016, but she praised Ms. Clinton as a more “pragmatic” candidate who has the experience and the know-how to be a successful president.

She also questioned the idea of Mr. Sanders as a “political revolutionary,” offering his ideas aren’t as radical in leftist circles as many are led to believe.

“This is ‘Old Left’ stuff to me,” Ms. Shackelford said. “This is what I was raised with, this is what my dad believes in. Which is not to say that it’s not cool.”

The contest between Ms. Shackelford and Mr. Rodriguez was much closer, with Ms. Shackelford edging into first place with a tally of 54-46.

During the final leg of the show, four students—two Democrats and two Republicans—were invited to the stage and present their case to the audience as to why their party is the best for the country. Kevin Covarrubias from CMC and Camilo Vilaseca from CMC represented the Democrats, and Mr. Reade and Steven Glick from Pomona College.

All four students debated back and forth about issues facing the country in 2016, including immigration, environmentalism and public policy.

The live show was peppered with breaking political news throughout. Candidates Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina bowed out of the race, bringing a sense of political reality to the student debates.

Mr. Mantle praised the live show after it wrapped up, saying the event “really got a breadth” of the diverse representation from across the five colleges.

Among the crowd of students and residents were John and Adrienne Beckmann, a Claremont couple who gathered to the Rose Hills Theater to see the students perform.

While they praised the students’ oratory skills, Mr. Beckmann mentioned he heard the same talking points before from the candidates themselves, an indication of voter frustration that is pervasive in this year’s election.

Matthew Bramlett


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