Ten Miles Square

The College Republicans

How the leading GOP presidential contenders were shaped by their undergraduate years--for better or worse.

By Samuel Knight and Justin Spees

BachmannMichele (Amble) Bachmann
B.A., English, 1978
Winona State University

A born-again Christian by the age of sixteen, Bachmann spent the summer after high school in Israel. She enrolled at Winona the following fall, where she met her husband (now known for running clinics promising to “cure” homosexuality). The two campaigned for Jimmy Carter’s presidential bid, but her flirtation with Democratic politics was short-lived. After reading Gore Vidal’s Burr, Bachmann converted to conservatism, claiming that the book’s lack of reverence for the Founding Fathers inspired an ideological eureka moment. She subsequently attended Oklahoma’s O. W. Coburn School of Law, which purported to teach “the law from a biblical worldview.”

CainHerman Cain
B.S., Mathematics, 1967
Morehouse College
Alpha Zeta

Cain was not eligible to attend the University of Georgia because he was black. His family paid for Morehouse through stock received from Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff—Cain’s father was Woodruff’s chauffeur.

GingrichNewt Gingrich
B.A., History, 1965
Columbus College, Emory University

Gingrich transferred to Emory after his freshman year to shack up with his former high school geometry teacher, Jackie Battley. He married Battley in the fall of 1962 and had a daughter by sophomore year. He started the Young Republicans chapter at Emory. He wore a suit and a tie to class.

HuntsmanJon Huntsman
B.A., International Politics, 1987
University of Utah, University of Pennsylvania
Sigma Chi

Son of the billionaire who developed the plastic egg carton, Huntsman dropped out of high school to tour with a band called Wizard. He eventually earned a GED and started college, though took time off after freshman year to do Mormon missionary work in China, where he learned the language and developed an interest in the culture. It was a detour that caused him to earn his degree at twenty-seven, but also eventually landed him back in Beijing as the American ambassador.

PalinSarah (Heath) Palin
B.A. Journalism, 1987
University of Idaho, University of Hawaii at Hilo, Matanuska-Susitna Community College, etc.

Palin attended five schools in three states. Despite a degree in journalism, she never wrote for any lamestream school newspapers (though she did intern at a local TV station after graduation).

PaulRon Paul
B.S., Biology, 1957
Gettysburg College
Lambda Chi Alpha

Paul was mortified when a microeconomics professor told him how banks keep only a small fraction of what gets deposited in them. The rest is history.

PawlentyTim Pawlenty
B.A., Political Science, 1983
University of Minnesota

Pawlenty was born to a working-class family, and his mother died when he was young. He went to school near his father’s home in St. Paul, working in the supermarket to pay the bills. He initially planned to become a dentist but switched his major after a difficult chemistry class.

PerryRick Perry
B.S. Animal Science, 1972
Texas A&M University
Alpha Gamma Rho

Like another future Republican big shot, Perry spent time in college as a cheerleader and a middling student. He belonged to A&M’s “Corps of Cadets,” a student military organization, ultimately joining the Air Force but not serving in Vietnam. He worked summers as a door-to-door Bible salesman, later saying that nothing “tests your commitment to a goal like getting a few doors closed in your face.”

RomneyMitt Romney
B.A., English, 1971
Stanford, Brigham Young University

Though he would transfer away from Stanford after his freshman year, Romney arrived in Palo Alto during the height of the counterculture movement. When his peers staged a sit-in inside an administration building, Romney stood outdoors, carrying a sign that said “Speak out, don’t sit in.”

SantorumRick Santorum
B.A., Political Science, 1980
Pennsylvania State University
Tau Epsilon Phi

Before he discovered his pious side, Santorum (nickname: “Rooster”) was a run-of-the-mill frat boy who enjoyed the occasional joint. His first discernible engagement with politics came via volunteer work for the reelection of liberal Republican Senator John Heinz. This campaign work just happened to fulfill a course requirement.

Samuel Knight and Justin Spees are interns at the Washington Monthly.