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Election Season at GW

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Illustration by Chris Murphy

By Caitlin Carroll

Each election year, you can count on GW students, alumni, and professors making headlines. They help run the campaigns, cover them for media outlets, research and study them, and support them as volunteers and convention delegates.

This year's race was no exception. From Republican nominee Mitt Romney's campaign manager, to President Barack Obama's director of speechwriting, to a network chief White House correspondent, to a handful of nominating convention speakers—GW community members were major forces behind the election.

Here, GW Magazine rounded up some of the prominent people involved in the 2012 presidential race.

GW Today, the School of Media and Public Affairs, and the Colonial Cable contributed to this story.

The Campaigners

Want to know about the key players on the Obama and Romney campaigns? A peek inside Eric Appleman's head is a good place to start.

Mr. Appleman, BA '93, has been gathering information on presidential campaigns since he was an undergraduate, when he organized an exhibit for Gelman Library on the 1992 election. Since then, he has developed online resources for presidential elections on his website Democracy In Action.

"I want to help people follow the campaign in an intelligent way," says Mr. Appleman, who still conducts much of his research at Gelman Library.

His website provides original reporting and photography and an overall framework for following the campaigns, which includes lists of the people staffing them.

But identifying presidential campaign staff members isn't always easy. The staffs are constantly changing and expanding. "It's just a question of a big jigsaw puzzle," Mr. Appleman says.

To fill out his list, he started in 2010 with the pre-campaign organizations. "You start at the beginning and keep a close eye on news sources and go to events and ask questions."

With all of his research, he was able to develop the below list of key campaign staff members, many of whom are GW alumni like him. To learn more, visit

The Alumni Behind the Candidates

Democratic Nominee Barack Obama

Stephen Krupin
Director of Speechwriting
MA '08

Katie Hogan
Deputy Press Secretary
BA '06

Joe Rospars
Chief Digital Strategist
BA '03

Kip Wainscott
Counsel and Ballot Initiative Director
BA '04, JD '08

Kara Carscaden
Deputy Press Secretary
MA '07

Michael Kurtz
Deputy Midwest Finance Director
BA '09

Michael Wear
Faith Vote Director
BA '11

Toby Fallsgraff
Technical Team Member
MA '06

Republican Nominee Mitt Romney

Matt Rhoades
Campaign Manager
MA '99

Kristen Caron
Communications Manager
MPS '11

Katie Biber
General Counsel
BA '00

Keisha Vaughan
Media Affairs Manager
BA '07, MS '09



Janna Ryan, JD '98

Everyone knows that a candidate's biggest supporter is his spouse. That means the most valuable member of Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's team is his wife, Janna Ryan, who graduated from GW Law School in 1998.

Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

The Social Strategist

According to Adam Conner, the highlight of his career has been "getting 12 million people to click a button on the same day."

That statement, of course, is on Facebook just like the button he referenced—an "I voted" button promoted on Election Day 2010 to encourage voter participation.

As Facebook's public policy manager, Mr. Conner, BA '06, focuses on how the social media network can engage users with government and was the Obama campaign's go-to guy for Facebook strategy. (The company also has a staff member who helped the Romney campaign.)

Nearly five years after starting Facebook's Washington office—which he initially set up in his apartment—Mr. Conner reflects on his work with the social media giant. For starters, he now has an office and co-workers.

Q: In what ways has your job at Facebook changed since starting the Washington office?

A: When I joined the company in 2007, I spent my first few years explaining to lawmakers, their staffers, government agencies, and others what Facebook was and why they should use it. I don't have to do that anymore. But there's always more work to be done to make sure that elected officials, political candidates, and government agencies are maximizing their use of Facebook and understand how to take advantage of the new products, tools, and features that we roll out regularly.

Q: In regard to the presidential election, describe how you aided the Obama/Biden campaign.

A: We have a great cross-functional team at Facebook that worked on the U.S. election. I help manage our team that worked with the Obama campaign, and my Republican counterpart has the same responsibility for the Romney campaign. We're very focused on making sure that both presidential campaigns—and campaigns at all levels of government—understand all that Facebook has to offer and how they can best take advantage of that, whether through Facebook pages, platform, or advertising.

Q: How did you get your start at Facebook?

A: After I graduated, I decided to go to work for former Virginia Gov. (and now Sen.) Mark Warner, a GW alum, as he explored a possible run for president. I worked on his online team and when I was there I met some people from Facebook and ended up buying the first political ads on Facebook on behalf of the campaign. I stayed in touch with the Facebook contacts, and eventually they reached out and asked me to be the first Facebook staffer in Washington.

Q: Favorite part of the job during this election season?

A: I love watching how technology is evolving and being integrated into all aspects of campaigns—from communications to field operations.

Q: Biggest challenge during this election season?

A: My job is to help political candidates at every level of government maximize their use of Facebook. That's a lot of races, and there are only so many hours in the day.

Q: Anybody who is friends with you on Facebook knows about your affinity for the vice president. For instance, you've posted on your Facebook wall an inspirational poster you had made from a lengthy Joe Biden quote. Have you met him?

A: I've been to a few events with Vice President Joe Biden, but I have not had the chance to be photographed with him. If any GW alums are VPOTUS staff, this is me awkwardly asking for an invite to the VP's holiday party.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

A: When I started at GW, Facebook didn't exist. When I graduated from GW, my job didn't exist. So the places life can take you are pretty extraordinary.

The College Democrats and the College Republicans each drew crowds for their election night parties in the Marvin Center, where students gathered to watch the election returns.

Jessica McConnell Burt

Junior Spencer Dixon, president of the College Democrats, participates in a discussion before the first presidential debate. The College Democrats and the College Republicans hosted watch parties for each of the presidential debates.

Rick Reinhard

Students show their support for Mitt Romney in the Marvin Center Continental Ballroom during the first presidential debate watch party Oct. 3.

Rick Reinhard

Some students rushed to the White House after news outlets reported that President Obama would win re-election.

William Atkins

Mitt Romney and his then fiancée, Ann Davies, with his parents, George and Lenore, in 1969.

Associated Press

If you follow politics, you may know that Mitt Romney garnered a lot of political insight from his parents—former Michigan Gov. George Romney and one-time Senate hopeful Lenore Romney. What you may not know about his parents is that both of them attended GW.

Lenore Romney graduated from GW with a bachelor's degree in English in 1929. George Romney, who, according to Time magazine, was courting Lenore so heavily that he followed her to GW from Utah, was a student at GW Law.

The two married in 1931 and moved to Michigan, where George became a leader in the auto industry and began his political career. He served as governor for three terms and campaigned to be the Republican presidential nominee in 1968. Lenore, who previously worked as an actress in Hollywood for a few years, ran for a Senate seat in 1970.

Natalie Cucchiara, BA '10, producer for NBC Chief White House Correspondent and Political Director Chuck Todd, Mr. Todd, ATT '90-'94, and another NBC producer, Doug Adams, stop for a photo in their workspace at the Democratic convention after President Obama's speech.

Courtesy of Natalie Cucchiara

The Reporters

When GW alumnus and NBC News Chief White House Correspondent and Political Director Chuck Todd visited his alma mater last November to give a preview of the 2012 election, there was still a crowded field of hopeful Republican nominees.

He told the audience that the first time he heard a speech from one of those Republican hopefuls—Newt Gingrich—was at Funger Hall in 1991, when Mr. Todd was a student at the university.

"Twelve people showed up," said Mr. Todd, who attended GW from 1990 to 1994, adding that Mr. Gingrich asked the students to take notes. "He wasn't trying to win the room; he was trying to lecture to the room, and in many ways he is that same guy [now]."

Nearly a decade after that first encounter with the former speaker of the House and months after giving his election preview at GW, Mr. Todd and other alumni were on the campaign trail of the two candidates racing for president.

Among the alumni in media who tackled this year's presidential campaign coverage are these Washington journalists.

Reid Wilson, BA '05
Editor-in-Chief, National Journal Hotline, Washington's daily tip sheet on campaigns and elections

"I love politics. I love the game of it, and I get to be a sportscaster for the only game that matters. We're at this seminal moment in American politics where not one but both parties are reinventing themselves fundamentally."

Natalie Cucchiara, BA '10
Political Unit Researcher and producer for Chief White House Correspondent and Political Director Chuck Todd, NBC News

"From watching hundreds of people pack into a diner in Atlantic, Iowa, on a below freezing day in January for a chance to meet Mitt Romney, to the Texas delegates at the RNC in their nightly themed outfits, to the sea of "Forward, Not Backward" signs on the floor of the DNC. These are the moments that have made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Getting to see firsthand how enthusiastic and passionate people are all around the country has been an experience I will never forget."

Washington Senior Producer for CBS This Morning Mosheh Oinounou, BA '04, MA '06, chats with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani before his appearance on the show at the Republican convention.

Photo courtesy of Mosheh Oinounou

Mosheh Oinounou, BA '04, MA '06
Washington Senior Producer, CBS This Morning

"This is the first election in the Twitter era, and with an unprecedented number of primary debates, daily polls, etc., it's a challenge to continually cut through all the noise and spin and provide voters with the latest, most accurate information and do it all in context. What we try to do every morning is set the table for viewers and to provide them with what they need to know about their world, their country, and the election."

Shawna Thomas, BA '02
White House Producer, NBC News

"There are over 400 members of Congress, but only one president, so the focus on him is much more intense. Everything the president does is news."


At the Drawing Table

Students and visitors of the Media and Public Affairs Building this fall will have a chance to see Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, David Axelrod, Tea Partiers, and Lady Liberty.

More than 30 editorial cartoons probing the presidential election and other current issues are on display throughout the fall semester as part of an Association of American Editorial Cartoonists festival.

The September festival attracted prominent cartoonists and caricaturists from across the nation to SMPA for panels, drawing sessions, and a competitive cartooning event called "Cartoon Death Match."

"Nothing proves that free speech is alive and well more than the political cartoon," says AAEC President John Cole.

POLITICO cartoonist Matt Wuerker won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his work. His watercolor cartoons are part of an exhibit in the School of Media and Public Affairs lobby.

Matt Wuerker/Politico

Prominent editorial cartoonists from across the country gathered at GW for an Association of American Editorial Cartoonists festival.

Jessica McConnell Burt

The Convention Delegates

GW reception at the Republication National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

GW reception at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Alumnus Omar Woodard's experience as a Pennsylvania delegate at the Democratic National Convention gave him a familiar feeling.

"Anywhere you look in American politics, you find GW alumni," says Mr. Woodard, BA '05, MPA '07, who is also a former recent alumni trustee.

With GW alumni at both the Republican and Democratic conventions, the Office of Alumni Relations hosted receptions at each event, which drew more than 100 alumni and other GW community members.

Mark Kennedy, director of GW's Graduate School of Political Management, who served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2007, hosted the event at the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla.

"Having studied in Foggy Bottom—in proximity to the White House and the Capitol—students become aware of the importance of being involved," says Mr. Kennedy, adding that "GW alumni are well placed on both sides of the political landscape."

Mr. Woodard, who hosted the alumni event at the DNC in Charlotte, N.C., says he ran into "no less than 30 fellow GW alumni." GW junior Alex Yudelson and freshman Maggie Wedeman also attended the DNC as delegates.

"Many GW alumni are actively participating as delegates, press, elected officials, and campaign staff," Mr. Woodard says.

—GW Today

Stage Time

On the Democratic convention's opening night, Illinois Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth, MA '92, delivered a prime-time speech. The next evening, Massachusetts Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren, who attended GW 1966-1968, introduced former U.S. President Bill Clinton. On the third night, Kerry Washington, BA '98, took the stage alongside fellow Hollywood stars Scarlett Johansson and Eva Longoria.

In the three days of the nominating convention, several alumni were in the political spotlight as they made speeches at the DNC.

Rep. Steve Israel, BA '81

Sen.-elect Tim Kaine, GW parent

Sen. Harry Reid, JD '64

Former Rep. Robert Wexler, JD '85

Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth, MA '92

Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren, ATT '66-'68


Kerry Washington, BA '98


The Researchers

When the first portion of political science professor John Sides' book was published in August, it was an unusual occurrence. That's because the book is about the 2012 presidential election, happening three months later.

Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election is an experiment in academic publishing, which is not known for its speed. The first two chapters of the book, which Mr. Sides is co-writing with University of California-Los Angeles Professor Lynn Vavreck, were released before November as eBook chapters.

"There's a lot of campaign commentary that amounts to supposition and opinion, and we want to provide hard evidence," says Mr. Sides, who notes that the publication pace of this book is about two to three years faster than most traditional academic books.

The book is grounded in data about the economy, public opinion, media coverage, and political advertising. Mr. Sides also showed up on the campaign trail to get qualitative data.

"We have data coming in every week, and we can leverage that," says Mr. Sides, who also co-authors the political blog The Monkey Cage and won Blogger of the Year from The Week in 2011. The blog was also named one of Time magazine's top 25 blogs of 2012.

The two chapters released in August—"The Hand You're Dealt" and "Random, or Romney?"—covered Mr. Obama's popularity in his first term and the Republican primary race. Additional eBook chapters are being published through December and the complete book will be released in fall 2013 by Princeton University Press.

Other GW researchers analyzing the presidential campaign include six Graduate School of Political Management faculty members who are collaborating on a book, Campaigning for President 2012: Strategy and Tactics.

The university also continued its POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground Poll for the 2012 election. The nationally recognized poll is distinguished from other surveys because it uses separate analyses from top pollsters representing both political parties. Gelman Library houses the data archive of the survey results dating back more than two decades.

Fact Finders

Face the Facts USA hosted "Election 2012 and America's Fiscal Cliff," a discussion with former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Jared Bernstein, former chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. The October event was taped for RLTV.

William Atkins

Did you know that more than one in ten of America's bridges were classified as "structurally deficient" in 2011? Or that we have more professional tax preparers in the United States than law enforcement officers and professional firefighters combined? Or how about that student loan debt is the only category of consumer debt still rising in post-recession America?

If you were receiving a fact a day each day leading up to the election from Face the Facts USA, you would have.

Powered in part by a team of GW student journalists, the nonpartisan multimedia and civic engagement initiative illustrated a fact each day in the three months before Nov. 6 with digital videos, info graphics, and social media to help voters become more informed.

"Although we live in a blizzard of information, the irony is that we are often left without clear facts about our biggest issues," says the project's leader, Frank Sesno, director of GW's School of Media and Public Affairs and former CNN Washington bureau chief.

The initiative, which is continuing to distribute a fact a day at, also hosted online events and streamed events from GW featuring leading policy experts.

Philanthropist Edward Scott Jr. made a $1 million gift to SMPA to launch the project. (see story page 37).

The Candidates

This presidential election year also saw many alumni being elected to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Nine alumni—including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.— were newly elected or re-elected to seats in Congress following November's general election. A total of 13 members of Congress are GW alumni.

"Our alumni continue to maintain a strong presence in Congress," says Renee McPhatter, assistant vice president for government and community relations. "We are so proud of this diverse group of public servants who work hard to represent their constituents and help lead the country."

—GW Today

Alumni elected or re-elected in 2012:

Rep.-elect Julia Brownley, D-Calif., BA '75

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., BA '85

Del. Donna Christensen, Virgin Islands, MD '70

Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., MA '92

Rep. John "Jimmy" Duncan, R-Tenn., JD '73

Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., BA '81

Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, MA '74

Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico, JD '84

Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., attended '66-'68

Alumni not up for re-election in 2012:

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., BA '77

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., JD '64

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, JD '52


Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., BBA '66