This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
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Pennsylvanians will cast ballots in a presidential primary next week, but the Republican contest has already been decided — at least in the mock election held by one of the state’s best public schools.
At J.R. Masterman High School, students recently put their lives on hold for a week to eat, sleep, and breathe as Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Donald Trump.
And try as they would to make it all about policy and ideas, just as in the real presidential race, this campaign too often ended up being about something flimsier.
In this case: food.
"We had cheese, salsa, but we ran out of meat fairly quickly because people tend to go for the meat," said senior Joel Chacko, who portrayed Ted Cruz.
Outside the cafeteria during the lunch rush, his campaign dished out the Texas senator’s foreign-policy platform in exchange for free tacos.
"I feel like people actually really learned something while they were getting their tacos, but at the same time, they were really interested in the food," said Chacko/Cruz.
It’s all part of what’s become a more than 15-year tradition at Masterman. The Advanced Placement government class chooses a political race and then breaks up into teams. Candidates are chosen, as well as campaign managers, speech writers and handlers.
And the fight for votes is no joke. Yeah, it’s for a grade, but also bragging rights.
That means making campaign commercials, developing a social media strategy, and understanding a candidate’s platform down to the fine print.
Taking the positions of Republican field
In becoming Ohio Gov. John Kasich, senior Maryanne Cosgrove applied the same sort of dogged attention to detail that got her accepted at Yale.
"I’m spending hours on John Kasich’s website, just reading through his fact sheets, reading through exactly what he says," said Cosgrove/Kasich. "We’re not making any of this up. It’s exactly what the candidates say."
Teacher Steve Gilligan said that it’s not just his class that gets swept up in the horse race.
"It pretty much takes over the entire school," he said. "In fact, you walk down the hallway and you hear people say, ‘I’m for Kasich’ or ‘Where’s Bernie Sanders? Why isn’t he here?’ A lot of stuff like that."