Mercer University students were at what turned out to be Rick Perry’s last presidential campaign appearance.
Don’t blame them, though. The 22 students and two professors constituted about half the crowd, students said Friday.
Those students and professors planned to remain in South Carolina for a victory party in Saturday’s state primary. Before they left for the trip, some of them were sure it would be a party for Mitt Romney. Since then, Newt Gingrich has surged in the polls, and the official count in Iowa took Romney’s victory in that state away.
The students are paying about half the cost of the road trip for their Presidential Primaries and the Media class. Home base for half the week has been a Days Inn in Clinton, S.C.
Brittany Vorreiter, a senior from Louisville, Ky., said the travels around South Carolina have helped her learn about politics in a way classwork alone couldn’t do.
“It’s been fantastic, actually,” said Vorreiter, who is working on a double major in management and economics with a minor in political science.
“I don’t think I could have gained this much experience or this much knowledge if I hadn’t gone on this trip. It’s really interesting to see the candidates speak live, rather than watching them on the news.”
The Mercer crowd traveling in two vans also saw some of its preconceptions dispelled, Vorreiter said. Students got a different feel for Perry after seeing him, for example, and more students turned away from Gingrich after seeing him speak, she said.
The group saw Perry and Gingrich on Wednesday, Ron Paul on Thursday and Romney on Friday. They planned to see Rick Santorum later Friday.
Liz Bibb, a senior from Rome, said she was inspired to study politics and journalism after seeing Hillary Clinton speak at a dinner in 2008. The South Carolina trip reinvigorated her.
“I love politics, and I have loved politics. It was during an event like this that made me love it in the first place, and coming back like this just reinforced that,” she said. “It’s important to learn about the theory of something, but it’s important to see it in practice as well.”
Mercer professors Chris Grant and Lori Johnson are escorting the students. Saturday’s South Carolina results could slow Romney’s climb to the nomination, or they could boost Gingrich’s momentum.
The South Carolina primary will determine “how much we talk about applied politics rather than theoretical,” said Grant, who noted in earlier races where he’d brought students -- South Carolina in 2008 and New Hampshire in 2000 -- the candidate with the momentum lost. Grant said Romney still had lots of supporters.
“They’re willing to stand in the rain for him,” he said.
Grant’s students were standing in the rain, too.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.