RSF youths create a buzz after scoring interviews with presidential candidates

By Diane Welch

Published on 04/17/2008
Rancho Santa Fe Review

If you were a teenager and had some pressing questions that you wanted to pose to the three top candidates in the presidential primaries, what would you ask them?

Kelsey Kemper Valentine, 17, a junior at Washington International School in D.C. and part-time resident of Rancho Santa Fe, had her question list well honed when she accepted an assignment for her school newspaper to do just that. With sister Christina, 15, who “worked behind the scenes” on the assignment, they have created quite a buzz. And being featured on their local ABC news station and in the papers, the enterprising teens are now in the spotlight themselves because of their presidential pondering.

With encouragement and a little nudging from mom, Kathy Kemper, a Washington D. C. columnist and official White House tennis coach, Kelsey and Christina were able to scoop some rare insights into this triumvirate of White House hopefuls. Kemper will also feature the Senators’ answers in her column published in The Hill publication.

“What are you most proud of and what is your greatest achievement?” comprised some of Kelsey’s questions. And inquiries Kelsey a into the rigors of life on the campaign trail, like “What is the food like, what music do you listen to, and can you work out?”

“The questions were not very political,” said Kelsey, “I think that they [the candidates] have been asked every political question there is – so we asked more personal questions.”

“But there were some hard ball questions asked, too,” added Kemper, “It was a good combination.”

When Senator John McCain was asked what his three top priorities would be as president, he responded: National security; economic security and prosperity; and global warming. Senator Hilary Clinton said that the three items at the top of her agenda would be withdrawal from Iraq ; her legislative plan: clean, affordable energy and better health care; and repairing relations around the world.

Senator Barack Obama’s top three list included ending the war in Iraq ; passing a universal health care plan; the creation of a bipartisan energy policy to end dependence on foreign oil.

“This is my first year on the school newspaper,” Kelsey said. The paper, The International Dateline, is published solely by students. A friend of the girls, Alex Burness, is the paper’s editor. “We were all thinking of new ideas for articles, so we brainstormed together and thought that it would be a good idea to interview all three presidential candidates.”

“It was a real collaborative effort,” said Kathy Kemper. “But the kids worked unprompted on the questions.”

The different modes that were used for the interviews was interesting said Kemper. Kelsey was fortunate that she could not only have access to these high-level politicians, but pulled out all the stops to get timely replies to meet her deadlines. Interviewing Clinton came about when she attended a party that one of Kemper’s friends was hosting. “So I was lucky enough to ask her a few questions there,” Kelsey said.

“I was able to ask her questions in person and one was ‘What are you most proud of?’ And she said, ‘My daughter.’ It was really nice to see her reaction because she was so excited and you could just tell that there was so much love there. It’s a side of her that you don’t normally see.”

For McCain they initially made inquiries via email and then they also went to visit his headquarters in Crystal City in Virginia . “We walked in and one of his assistants gave us a sheet of paper and he had written out his answers by hand for us.” He was just getting ready to leave for Iraq that day and without access to a computer and pressed for time he made hand notes.

“He wanted to make sure that he had given thorough answers so then when he was overseas he gave me a phone call as the girls were in school,” said Kemper. “He just wanted to make sure that Kelsey, Christina and Alex got what they needed. It was really exciting to see his answers written by hand.”

Christina is a big fan of McCain and is herself an ardent patriot. “I’m very in touch with that side of him. I really like that he fought for our country.” He also talks a lot about his mother, as she goes to a lot of the parties that the Kempers attend. “She’s 98 yet she seems like she’s in her 60s and has a twin who is exactly the same.” So when questions about McCain’s age surface he shrugs them off, and relates stories about his nonagenarian mom. “Like the one about when she traveled to Europe with her twin, only to find that she was too old to rent a car– so she bought one,” laughed Christina.

Tidbits like this made the Senators seem very down to earth and easy to talk to. And because Clinton and McCain were already acquainted with Kemper, it made them more accessible and open to the interviews.

Clinton’s connection with Kemper went back to her stay in the White House where Kemper coaches tennis to the first family and visiting dignitaries. She is also a big supporter of the Women’s Sports Foundation of which Kemper is involved. Kemper got to know Senator McCain over the years because, “he’s such a big part of Washington,” she said. “I admire him so much–he has a great sense of humor and is very self-deprecating. He’s just a lot of fun to hang around with.”

Obama – not being part of the Washington scene as his family is based in Chicago – was accessible via email but graciously answered Kelsey’s questions. “It was very hard to connect with him because our email coincided with the Reverend Wright scandal, so the Obama camp was in crisis mode and doing damage control. But after he made his speech, we received our answers.”

Obama is a big fan of Stevie Wonder and downloads his music to his iPod during his downtime when flying. He is most proud of his two daughters and of “a country that allows them to dream big dreams,” he wrote. McCain’s favorite band is Abba, and Clinton ‘s the Rolling Stones and U2. All three Senators are reaching out to young voters, with Clinton promising that “Young people will have a voice in my administration.”

This is Kelsey’s first column for the school paper and her first interviews but the feature will continue and be picked up in the fall by Christina when Kelsey graduates this summer. “We want to have it in the same spot in the same format for each issue,” she said, “and it’s probably going to be in the question and answer format with an introductory paragraph.”

Both girls have learned what their mother has experienced for years as a published columnist, that to be a good journalist it takes tenacity and sometimes a lot of gentle but firm pestering to reach interview subjects and meet deadlines. And while neither girl sees journalism in their future, both are hopeful that the best candidate will be elected to the presidency.

Interviews with the presidential candidates…

Below are the questions and answers Christina and Kelsey Kemper Valentine conducted via email with the presidential candidates:

Senator Hillary Clinton:

    • Q: What are you most proud of?


    • A: My daughter.
    • Q: What is the food like on the campaign? Can you find time to work out? How do you manage a good night’s rest?


    • A: I am not a great cook, but I love soft scrambled eggs. I love to speed walk. Sleeping until 7 a.m. is my idea of luxury!
    • Q:What music do you like to listen to while out campaigning?


    • A: I love to play scrabble and do cross word puzzles. Carly Simon, Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones, U2.
    • Q: What would be your top three priorities in the first 100 days in the White House?


    • A: Number one would be to withdraw from Iraq . Number two would be presenting my legislative plan, clean, affordable energy, better health care, and repairing relations around the world, with other countries.
    • Q: How many grandchildren would you like?


    • A: The health and happiness of my family is the most important thing to me — on the campaign trail and off — so, whatever makes Chelsea happy.
    • Q: What is your greatest achievement?


    • A: People ask me, “What’s the best thing you’ve ever done, the hardest thing you’ve ever done?” The answer is the same: It’s being Chelsea ‘s mom. I still remember Chelsea crying her heart out one night soon after Bill and I brought her home from the hospital. Nothing we could do would quiet her wailing. Finally, as I held her in my arms, I said, “This is new for both of us. I’ve never been a mother before, and you’ve never been a baby. We’re just going to have to help each other do the best we can.” Well, now Chelsea ‘s all grown up, and I’m most proud of the fact that she is an independent person with a loving heart. She’s a wonderful young woman. I’m very grateful for that.
    • Q: How has your lawyer background benefitted your career as a politician?


    • A: My decision to go to law school was an expression of my belief that the system could be changed from within. My legal background has allowed me to advocate on behalf of children and families — the work that has been the passion and calling of my life through my years of public service, and now my years in public office.
    • Q: How do you plan to attract young voters?


    • A: Young voters all over the country are actively engaged in my campaign. They are the backbone of our field operation, they have started groups at their colleges and high schools, and they are working hard to spread the word about my campaign. They are the best advocates I have in reaching out to other young people. But I’ve also focused a lot on policies that will help young people — from my plan to make college more affordable and accessible to all young people to my plan to create a strategic energy fund to address global warming while creating new jobs. Over the last seven years, young people have continued to fight hard on all the issues they care about—global warming, the genocide in Darfur , and health care, but their efforts have fallen on deaf ears in this administration. As I travel across the country, I make sure to remind young people that their efforts will not be lost on me, should I become President. Young people will have a voice in my administration.
    • Q: Aside from your experience, what do you feel you bring to the table that Senator Obama does not?


    A: I believe the Democrats are very lucky to have two strong candidates running in this primary. I also believe the choice facing voters comes down to who offers real solutions for the real problems we face in America . My policies — from building an economy that works for everyone, to ending the war in Iraq, to declaring energy independence and creating millions of green collar jobs — will make all of our hopes and dreams into a reality for people across America.


Senator John McCain:

    • Q: What are you most proud of?


    • A: My family’s dedication to service to our nation.
    • Q: What is the food like on the campaign? Can you find time to work out?


    • A: I try to eat as healthy as possible, but that isn’t to say I [don’t] enjoy hamburgers, hotdogs, and pizza on the trail.
    • Q: What music do you like to listen to while out campaigning?


    • A: We keep a vigorous schedule but [I] do enjoy listening to Abba.
    • Q: How many grandchildren would you like?


    • A: I already have four grandchildren who I am very proud of.
    • Q: What is your greatest achievement?


    • A: Going from the bottom of my class at the Naval Academy to living a life of service to our country for over 50 years.
    • Q: How has your military service benefitted your career as a politician?


    • A: Provided me with the knowledge and background.
    • Q: How do you plan to attract young voters?


    • A: I frequent the Daily Show, Letterman, Leno, MTV, town halls to communicate.
    • Q: Aside from your experience, what do you feel you bring to the table that Senators’ Clinton and Obama do not?


    • A: I have respect for both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, but my conservative record and service to our country makes me most qualified to lead as Commander in Chief.
    • Q: What will be your three top priorities as President?


    A: National security, economic security/prosperity, global warming.


Senator Barack Obama:

    • Q: What are you most proud of?


    • A: I am most proud of my two daughters, and of a country that allows them to dream big dreams.
    • Q: What is the food like on the campaign? How do you stay fit?


    • A: The food on the campaign keeps me absolutely committed to staying active with a run or a basketball game as often as I can.
    • Q: What music do you listen to while campaigning?


    • A: If I get any downtime on the plane, I usually listen to my iPod that has all kinds of music on it. I’m a big Stevie Wonder fan.
    • Q: How has your lawyer background benefited your career as a politician?


    • A: It’s taught me to think substantively about both sides of every issue and helped me organize my arguments in clear and consistent ways.
    • Q: What will be your top three priorities as President?


    • A: My top priority as President will be to end this war in Iraq and begin bringing our troops home. I also want to pass a universal health care plan by the end of my first term as President, and I want to bring both parties together to finally create an energy policy that invests in renewable energy and ends our dependence on foreign oil.
    • Q: Aside from your rock star status what do you feel you bring to the table that Senators McCain and Clinton do not?


    • A: Over my two decades in public service, I’ve shown that I can bring people together who don’t always agree, and that I’m not afraid to tell people what they need to hear instead of just what they want to hear. And I think that in order to solve the challenges we’re facing today, we need a leader who can bridge our differences and be honest with us about the choices we face.
    • Q: What is your greatest achievement?


    • A: Shortly after I arrived in the Senate, we saw a lot of scandal and corruption engulf Washington. I became the Democratic Party’s point person on ethics and lobbying reform, and working with Republicans, we passed the most sweeping reform since Watergate. We banned free gifts, free meals, subsidized travel on corporate jets, and we made sure that lobbyists had to tell the American people where they’re raising money from and who in Congress they’re funneling it to.
    • Q: What is your stance on nuclear power?


    • A: I believe we need to explore ways to ensure that nuclear power is used and disposed of safely before we can make it a real part of our energy future. I’m a stronger proponent of renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and biofuels as the best way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
    • Q: Will you send your children to Washington International School, where educating for responsible and effective world citizenship is the mission?


    • A: That’s a decision Michelle and I will have to make if we are fortunate enough to move into the White House next January.

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