Democracy is alive and well within the walls of Moorestown Friends School.
Since 1960, the school has been hosting mock primary elections, run entirely by the students, during each election cycle.
Students playing the roles of Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman took to the podium Tuesday morning and tried to convince the educated voters of the middle and upper schools to cast their ballots in their favor.
Michael Smerconish, a popular talk show radio host from Philadelphia’s 1210 AM, moderated the event and led the candidates in a “town hall” style primary debate in front of both the upper and middle school students.
“This is a fabulous program. It’s a fun way to get students informed,” Smerconish said, who trumped moderatism during his opening remarks to the student body. “Those five candidates have exhibited more intelligence than probably the majority of voters in the country.”
Any one of the five candidates could probably have sat in for one of the real candidates in the primary and not missed a beat, Smerconish said with a chuckle.
The candidates were represented by five MFS students, who originally declared their intentions in September and enrolled in two “minor” courses for the opportunity to do so.
Sophomore Dante Bucci represented Gingrich, junior Joe Kiernan represented Huntsman, senior Doug Adair represented Rick Perry, freshman Brett Barbin represented Romney and senior Kyle Whittall represented Ron Paul.
“This is a great civics lesson for our students. That’s the primary reason we do this every year,” said Judy VanTijn, an MFS history teacher and organizer of the mock election. “It really helps fight disenchantment when it comes to participating in politics. The kids get a good sense of what it takes to participate and be in politics.”
In the past, some of the real-life candidates actually get involved as well, VanTijn said. U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who sought the presidency four years ago, came to the 2004 mock primary to view the proceedings, she said.
At the end of the day, students, faculty and the administration cast votes online to determine who they believe “won” the primary. While the school’s track record hasn’t been great in determining the real election outcomes each year — Michael Dukakis over Reagan in 1988, really? — the school did award the primary victory to Barack Obama last year.
VanTijn pointed to a banner hanging in the school’s field house with each primary victor.
“We’re never right,” she said, with a chuckle.
Kiernan, of Haddonfield, said he decided to represent Huntsman because of the type of man the candidate has proven to be. He’s a moderate, Kiernan said, and he seems to be open to ideas outside of his own party.
“He has some very interesting ideas. He’s not for Obamacare, he’s for Huntsmancare,” Kiernan said, of the candidates idea for national healthcare.
Huntsman … err … Kiernan was eventually declared the winner by the school voters for his primary performance.