Political campaigns are complex—even for political scientists. For students studying the field, understanding what is happening behind the scenes of a campaign can be difficult. For the average citizen, the confusion can be even greater.
That’s why Steven Pearlstein created the First Tuesday speaker series. The Robinson Professor of Public Affairs in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University hopes it can help broaden perspectives on politics and challenge misconceptions that lead to political cynicism.
“The purpose here is to give students a sense of what campaigns and elections are like from the inside,” said Pearlstein, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the Washington Post who hosts the series in conjunction with his Mason Honors College seminar course.
Pulling the curtain back on campaigns has an often-unnoticed value, he said.
“[Political scientists] come up with mathematical models of elections that make it seem as if whatever the outcome is it’s inevitable,” Pearlstein said, adding that they don’t factor in how the campaign is run because of its nuanced intricacy. “They have a model about how campaigns and elections work that essentially ignores how good or bad a campaign is—this course is the antidote to that.”
Sponsored by the Schar School and the Honors College, the First Tuesday speaker series—named for leading up to Election Day, the first Tuesday in November—pulls in experts from both sides of the political spectrum.
The candid discussions about how elections are won and lost “lift the curtain behind the buzzwords and messaging that the public is spoon fed,” said Tom Davis, one of the series’ guests. Davis is a former Republican Congressman from Virginia and the former rector of Mason’s Board of Visitors.
“[It’s] well worth attending,” said Jim Pfiffner, professor emeritus in the Schar School who attended in 2018. “[Pearlstein] is an excellent interviewer and brings out interesting facets of [the speakers’] deep experience in politics.”
For politically inclined students, the experience is unparalleled.
“There are very few schools in America that could get all these people on a speaker series like this,” Pearlstein said. “Only [schools] in Washington can easily do that, and I don’t think any of the other Washington schools do it to this degree.”
“What I hope students will see is that there’s a lot of very smart and experienced people who do campaigns at a high level,” he said. “It is somewhat of a science, but it’s also an art. And campaigns matter.”
The series is held every two years during election cycles. It will be virtual this year and is open to all via Zoom: http://schar.gmu.edu/firsttuesday.
This year, students, faculty, and community members will hear from a list of high-caliber professionals including:
- Peter Hart, dean of American political pollsters (Sept. 8)
- Mike Henry, former campaign manager of Senator Tim Kaine, Mark Warner and Gov. Terry McAuliffe (Sept. 15)
- Rebecca Pearcey, policy director of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign (Sept. 22)
- Rick Wilson, co-founder of the Lincoln Project and Republican media strategist (Sept. 29)
- Amy Gardner, political reporter and editor of the Washington Post (Oct. 6)
- U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, Democrat, Virginia 10th District (Oct. 13)
- Danny Diaz, Republican political and communications strategist and Mason alumnus (Oct. 20)
- Lis Smith, communications director of Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign (Oct. 27)
- Tom Davis, former Republican Congressman from Virginia and former rector of Mason’s Board of Visitors (Nov. 10)