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W&L's Mock Convention Assembles State Delegations

Senior Zach Wilkes is bound and determined to start a new streak when Washington and Lee University’s 2012 Mock Republican Convention nominates its presidential candidate on February 10, 2012.

In its last attempt to predict the presidential nominee of the party out of power, the W&L conventioneers incorrectly chose Hillary Clinton in 2008 to win the Democratic nomination. That ended a string of eight consecutive correct predictions, dating back to 1976, when Jimmy Carter was the Democratic nominee. Overall, the convention has been correct on 19 of 25 occasions.

Wilkes, a politics major from Farmerville, La., is the convention’s political chair, who oversees the copious research that makes the event one of the most realistic of its kind.

This week, the Mock Convention held its State Delegation Fair, when W&L students signed up to be part of a state delegation.

As part of the fair, the convention also staged a straw vote, asking the delegates to indicate for which of the Republican presidential candidates they would vote. Mitt Romney was the runaway winner, with 40.5 percent of the votes; Rick Perry was second, with 17.3 percent. Meantime, 17.5 percent indicated they had no idea. The rest of the field, in order, was Ron Paul (9.4 percent), Herman Cain (7.6 percent), Jon Huntsman (4.8 percent), Michele Bachmann (1.2 percent), Newt Gingrich (0.8 percent) and Rick Santorum (0.6 percent).

Wilkes found those results only mildly interesting. In fact, “we have tried to ignore the polling,” said Wilkes. “Instead, our individual state chairs have been making contacts in their states, talking to people in those states, reading newspapers from those states, and working primarily to determine what the key issues are going to be in those states.”

“If you get too concerned about what you read in the national press, you can forget that people are actually voting by state.”

Wilkes said that while the students have thus far focused most of their research on issues, “now we’re turning to which candidate is going to do well” because of his or her positions on those issues.

When the Mock Convention committee set its date, the goal was to place the event between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, which would likely have made the prediction of a nominee especially challenging. Now that states have begun to move up their primaries, it means that the student conventioneers will have the benefit of the results of those primaries.

“We had wanted to make this as challenging as possible to make as much of a statement we could. Once the shifting of primary dates began, there wasn’t much we could do. The logistics of our event make it impossible to move from the original date,” Wilkes said.

Still, Wilkes expects the research that he and the state chairs have been doing will pay off in the end.

“At this point, it appears that it may not be quite as challenging as we had hoped,” he said. “But there is a lot that could happen between now and February, and I can envision scenarios that would involve pretty much a two-way dead heat by then. So we still have our work cut out in order to make the right decision.”

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