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Duke sees strong showing at conventions

Arthur Leopold had some explaining to do.

The freshman failed to attend a single class last week. But the culprit was not a broken alarm clock or a late C-1 bus. Leopold willingly traded a few of his first days of college for the ultimate political extracurricular: a trip to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colo.

"It's like the Olympics of politics," he said. "It's really thrilling to have the chance to see it all."

And see it he did. A New York delegate and the youngest member of Sen. Barack Obama's finance committee, Leopold was front and center on the convention floor for the DNC's biggest moments-including Obama's Aug. 28 acceptance speech before a cheering crowd of more than 84,000.

And Leopold was not the only DNC attendee with ties to the University. While the rest of the country has followed the events in Denver and St. Paul, Minn.-the site of this week's Republican National Convention-from afar, several Dukies caught the action first hand. From volunteers and interns to delegates and members of the press, these political enthusiasts filled many roles as they immersed themselves in the excitement of two presidential nominations.

"I think over the last three days I've had a total of six hours of sleep," said Betsy Albright, a graduate student in the Nicholas School of Environment, in an interview with The Chronicle Aug. 27. Albright, a DNC delegate from North Carolina, said she spent her days at the convention in a blur of delegate luncheons, meetings with elected officials and cheering as the party's stars took the stage to speak each evening.

A week later and a thousand miles away, Pearce Godwin, Trinity '08, an employee of Sen. Elizabeth Dole's office, kept himself busy at the RNC as a volunteer for Sen. John McCain's campaign. He said he has logged long hours each day this week organizing events for the candidate. But he added that some of the convention's most exciting moments so far had nothing to do with his job. Tuesday, for example, he met former President George H. W. Bush and later that night he was invited to a party for potential first lady Cindy McCain.

"The whole atmosphere is just really fun and festive and excited," he said.

Watching the convention with the Oregon delegation, fellow volunteer Christopher Bobadilla, a junior and an executive board member of College Republicans, said he felt the mood at the RNC started out "subdued" because of fears sweeping the country early in the week about Hurricane Gustav. But the somber tone of Monday's proceedings-headlined by first lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain's request for relief donations from delegates-gave way to more typical convention festivities as concern over the storm abated, Bobadilla said.

Bobadilla did not have to explain to professors why he skipped class this week-his study abroad program in England does not begin until October-but he and other Duke attendees at both conventions said their unique vacations dropped more than a few jaws among friends and family back home.

"[My colleagues] are so jazzed I'm here [at the DNC]," said Pam Spaulding, the information technology manager for Duke University Press and the creator of Pam's House Blend, a blog reporting on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in North Carolina and around the country.

Though the blog logs thousands of hits each day and has won awards for its reporting, Spaulding's attendance at the convention was never a given. First she had to apply for press credentials, which were awarded to only 120 bloggers. Then there was the dizzying proposition of financing a trip to Denver for Spaulding and four of her contributing writers.

So Spaulding added a donation page to her blog and made a plea to her readers. By the time the convention arrived, the call to "send the Blend to Denver" had netted more than $5,000 for travel and lodging. And the writers repaid the debt with extensive coverage-including video clips, interviews and analysis pieces from each day of the convention.

"It's amazing just to be here and to be able to report and show that new media can report just as well as old and traditional media," she said.

For his part, Samuel Tasher, a senior and executive director of the College Republicans, said he felt like he "got to help write history." Tasher spent last week in St. Paul working as a staff member for the RNC platform committee as it drafted its presidential platform. He said there was "a lot of excitement" among Republicans at the convention about the upcoming elections.

Though attendees said they enjoyed the energy of the conventions, some expressed concern about what would happen to that enthusiasm when the conventions end and the country faces two more months of election politics.

"[The convention] is a lot of hooplah," said Faulkner Fox, a lecturing fellow in the English department and a North Carolina delegate at the DNC. "I just hope people understand that the hooplah isn't an end in itself. The hooplah is to get people energized to go home and work."

As for Leopold, now that he is back on campus he said he plans to continue campaigning for Obama and other Democratic candidates.

But first things first: He has some homework to catch up on.

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