By Shelby Schroeder
The Wittenberg student will witness the presidential swearing-in firsthand.
BOARDMAN — By merely guessing Barack Obama would prevail in this year’s election, a local voter will be present for the president-elect’s swearing-in later this month.
Boardman native and first-time voter Kirsten Midgley won two tickets to Obama’s inauguration in a campuswide contest at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.
The week of the election, more than 80 students set out to predict which presidential candidate would claim each of the 50 states and District of Columbia. The most accurate predictor would receive a seat near the new U.S. president on Jan. 20.
But some people, including Midgley herself, would never suspect the 19-year-old of being so politically savvy. A biology major in her sophomore year, much of Midgley’s election knowledge came from the American National Government course she took that semester.
“She’s a gorgeous, popular girl with straight A’s,” her mother, Jane Midgley, gushed, “But she had no clue what she was doing.”
Jane said her daughter filled out the contest form on a whim, predicting each state in what was the equivalent of a uninformed vote. Kirsten confided that though published polls helped with her predictions, the unprecedented number of undecided states left her guessing.
“I looked up stuff for the states that normally go one way or another,” Kirsten said, “but when I was researching, every Web site said Ohio and 11 other states were a complete toss-up.”
By the end of election night, at a campus party sponsored by the political science department, Kirsten kept an eye on her name as the list of contestants withered down to hers and one other student. She would have to wait until the tiebreaker — the popular vote that each participant had to predict — was finally released.
The next Friday, Kirsten’s government professor Ed Hasecke informed her of her near-perfect predictions. She would be present for the making of history.
“When I told her she won, her face was pretty priceless,” Hasecke said. “In class, students stood up and applauded her.”
An elated Kirsten said she couldn’t be more surprised, or more ecstatic, to witness firsthand the man she helped elect be sworn in.
“My friends are jealous, super excited for me and really happy I get to have this experience,” she said. “I definitely feel it’s something I’m always going to remember.”
Hasecke hopes that’s true.
He said that past winners may have forgotten their prizes — a $15 gift card to Chipotle — but Kirsten’s win should be influential.
“I hope it’s overwhelming [for her] in that it permanently implants this enthusiasm and interest in what the government can really mean for her in a lifetime,” he said.
Hasecke said that’s the point of the 12-year-old contest.
In 1996 and 2000, he helped put together the contests for the political science department, first as a student, then as a graduate teaching assistant. Now, as a professor, he carries on the tradition to continue motivating students to become politically active.
“The contest is a way of encouraging young people, who have historically the lowest voting rates, to get engaged and excited in the election process,” Hasecke said.
Hasecke said that in previous years, the campus’s election night party drew in about 100 students out of a campus of 1,800. The 2008 election party, however, saw the number of guests rocket to 500. Yet he admits there were other factors responsible for the strong turnout.
Wars around the world, a deteriorating economy and a particularly hopeful presidential candidate likely helped rally students in a year unlike others.
This year’s prize came with the aid of Dean Sarah Kelly, who worked with Hasecke to secure tickets from longtime Wittenberg supporter U.S. Rep. Dave Hobson, R-7th, and Steve Austria, Congressman-elect and Hobson’s successor.
A friend will be seated at the inauguration along with the winner, who was thought by many a contestant unlikely to prevail. But for Hasecke, the idea that science student Kirsten won broadens the impact and importance of politics to her classmates.
“I’m really thrilled it’s not a poli-sci student who won,” he said, “because that symbolic message is much more powerful.”