February 15, 2016

Last –And Lasting Memories– With Gov. Jim Gilmore

My Presidential Elections class with former presidential candidate Gov. Jim Gilmore (center).

My Presidential Elections class with former presidential candidate Gov. Jim Gilmore (center).

For the New Hampshire primary, all eyes were on front runners Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. In town with fellow Quinnipiac University students on a class trip, I was able to see all those candidates, but only briefly. I had far more personal moments with candidates who –despite their best attempts– couldn’t get in front of the public eye.

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I got my favorite picture of the weekend with Carly Fiorina and collected my favorite soundbite –a Donald Trump impression– from Gov. Chris Christie, both candidates who dropped out of the race the day after the primary. But by far, the best experience of the weekend was with the least popular candidate of all –the man with the lowest votes out of anyone still in the race, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore.

At 10 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, Gilmore agreed to meet with the students of my Presidential Elections class in the lobby of the Super 8 Hotel where we were all guests. He entered the lobby of the hotel with his coat in one hand and a McDonald’s bag in the other. He told us he’d wolf his Big Mac down real quick and be back to “have some fun” with us. When he returned, he sat down and –with McDonald’s fries in hand– began sharing his political background and explained why he is in this race.

“I don’t think the Republican party is offering a reasonable alternative [to the Democrats],” he said. “I do think that we have an obligation as Republicans to offer a different direction, and a cogent line of thought and an ideology about what direction we’re trying to go in –which is what I’m trying to do in this presidential campaign.”

He went on to discuss his credentials –“I am the only one in this field that has any military experience”– and as the night went on, he debated us on our favorite topics: minimum wage, gun control, and the current state of war in the Middle East. It was more of a question and answer session than anything, but Gov. Gilmore wanted us to just share our thoughts. Everything was fair game and he wanted us to talk about things that were important to us.

At the time, Gov. Gilmore was dead last in the polls. Why was he still running?

“Gilmentum,” he said. He only received 12 votes in Iowa, but believed as more candidates dropped out, he’d have a higher chance of being heard.

Around midnight he told us he had to get back to campaigning at 4:30 a.m., but stayed another hour because he said chatting with us was fun. Just before leaving, he did have one mission for our class: go back to Quinnipiac and ask our polling institute to start including his name in their presidential polls.

“Gilmentum” turned out 133 votes in New Hampshire, but it wasn’t enough. On February 12, five days after talking to us, Gov. Gilmore dropped out of the presidential race.

Since the New Hampshire primary, there are three less Republican candidates in the race. But now, every time I see someone eating McDonald’s french fries, I’ll have to tell them the story of how Gov. Jim Gilmore spent the night with my Quinnipiac class, talking politics in a Super 8 hotel lobby.

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