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Republican primaries attract young political junkies from Canada

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OTTAWA - Forget the "foreign radicals" the Conservatives say are infiltrating the oil pipeline debate — some young Tories recently made their own forays into the American political scene.

A handful drove down to campaign during the New Hampshire Republican party primary — a singular chance to see a massive political machine in motion.

The race for the Republican nomination has captivated a number of right-leaning Canadians, eager to debate who would be the best candidate to face Democratic president Barack Obama in November.

One has even set up a "Canada Votes for Ron Paul" website.

Friends Steven Badger and Eric Hampel decided to take their support for Mitt Romney a step further.

The two just returned from New Hampshire, where over the weekend they joined the army of 500 or so Romney campaigners who canvassed door-to-door during the primary.

"It's like comparing a high-school football team to an NFL team," said Badger, a University of Toronto student who once worked for Tory MP Brad Butt and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson. "The scale, the amount of money, the amount of expertise, I mean it's huge.

"I think Team Romney on the one Saturday that we were there knocked on 10,000 doors. It was just an unbelievably organized, disciplined machine compared to what we're used to up here."

Romney won the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday and is now campaigning in South Carolina.

Hampel, who has also worked for Nicholson, said he's been a fan of the former Massachusetts governor and business executive since 2008.

"I just thought that someone with private sector experience, CEO experience, he's exactly what America needs in these tough economic times, especially now . . . after three years of really not much of a recovery," said Hampel, an accountant.

"We definitely need someone who's a turnaround specialist to help turn around the American economy, which reflects even better for the Canadian economy."

But the ideological and policy crossover between Canadian conservatives and Republicans isn't always a close fit. An attack ad from the Newt Gingrich campaign recently ridiculed Romney for speaking French. Rick Santorum has spoken out against contraception and advocated for the teaching of creationism in schools.

"A lot of Conservatives I know won't even say they're Republican," said Andrea Sarkic, a University of Ottawa student who volunteered with Romney last month. "They won't even fully side with that, because you have some extremists in the party in the States, and you'll always have that...," .

Sarkic said that's why Romney appeals to her and others.

"Romney is definitely a little more moderate, but does have the conservative undertones, that's why he aligns with most with my values as a Conservative," she said.

Young Canadians drawn to the exciting political scene in the U.S. aren't limited to the Republicans — Obama's 2008 campaign also drew Canadian help.

A few even wound up working very close to him — Marvin Nicholson of Victoria, B.C., is the White House travel director and former Paul Martin aide Jean-Michel Picher travelled with Obama during the campaign.

Melissa Haussman, a Carleton University political science professor, said there's nothing like seeing American electoral politics up close. She took a group of students to the United States in 2008 to campaign with Hillary Clinton during the Super Tuesday primaries.

"We have computer-enabled classrooms, we can pull clips up on the web, but it's not the same as being in the room when the candidate walks in and is shaking hands and you watch the candidate interacting with folks," said Haussman, who once worked in the Massachusetts state legislature.

"You learn about all the little issues in terms of rivalries within towns and between different Republican town committees and state committees. There's no way you'd pick it up in a classroom in Ottawa."

Sarkic, who is finishing a degree in international development, agreed.

"I could sit there and read it in a textbook, or in my American politics class, or I could go for a hands-on learning experience," she said.

"How the States ends up in turn will have some effect on us, whether it's just because we're the Americas, or whether it's because we're trading partners, or whether we sit on the G-8 together, at the end of the date we're still linked."

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