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U. Maryland Panel Discusses Historic Election

This story was written by Anna Eisenberg, The Diamondback

Smart. Composure. Trust. Youth. Change. Hope. Progress.

These were words shouted out by the "The White House: What Now?" audience when asked to describe in one word why President-elect Barack Obama (D) won the presidential election.

This event, a panel discussion with Pulitzer Prize winner Haynes Johnson, Democratic strategist Ron Walters and Dean of the University of Maryland College of Behavioral and Social Sciences Ed Montgomery, drew a crowd of roughly 250 students and faculty members to Tyser Auditorium Wednesday night to give people a chance to react to the election.

Lee Thornton, interim dean of the journalism school and organizer of the event, said she wanted this discussion because the presidential race was so historic and unprecedented that it was a "no-brainer" to have a post-election event.

"We wanted to give people a chance to talk about what we've been through," said Thornton, who moderated the discussion. "A chance to vent and to raise issues with the entire university community involved."

The event was held in "town hall meeting" style, with panelists answering questions asked by Thornton and members of the audience. The two-hour discussion ranged from the economy to media coverage to Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) but focused primarily on race and campaign tactics.

"You can't talk about this election and isolate it from race," Johnson said.

Walters added that an Obama presidency will help the world's perception of Americans.

"When [the world] looks at Barack Obama, they are looking at themselves because he is someone who looks like them," Walters said. "The majority of the world is not white."

Walters said this election would allow Americans to talk about race more easily than in the past, and in the media's coverage of this election, race was "the elephant in the room."

The panelists also touched on how campaigns work, including which tactics were successful this year.

They agreed that Obama's use of the Internet to reach young voters was successful. Thornton asked the audience, comprised mainly of students, if they agreed that Obama could not have won without technology to reach out to young people. Members of the audience called out in agreement.

The issue of negative campaigning employed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was also brought into question.

"It didn't work this time," Johnson said. "But it's not the end of negative campaigning."

Walters said McCain was "in a box" because people said they preferred the Democratic Party on almost all issues, so he had no choice but to turn to negative campaigning.

Most in attendance seemed to enjoy the discussion and appreciated the expert input from the panelists about this election season and the impact of the results.

"I gained a better intuition of the future, as in how Obama's going to lead our country," said sophomore journalism major Melissa Quijada after the event. "I now have a better understanding of how campaigns work and how media image is important."

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