Groups look for political momentum past VP debate

In the wake of last Thursday’s vice presidential debate, politically-oriented student groups have reported a positive response to debate-day political activities and a desire to harness the political energy on campus for the future.

Two prominent campus political groups, the College Democrats and College Republicans, both utilized the extensive media and interest group activity on campus by making sure that they involved as much of the student body in the day’s events as possible.

“I don’t think any one moment was a highlight. The day was a highlight for campus,” junior Ben Guthorn, president of College Democrats, said. “There was so much going on on campus. [The College Democrats’] main goal was to get people involved in the things already happening. We couldn’t provide anything more exciting than [MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews”] shooting on campus.”

Charis Fischer, president of the College Republicans, was able to enter the media filing center—or Spin Alley—where national media and political personalities gathered during the debate.

Fischer said that that experience complemented the opportunities afforded to her group members, with news channels canvassing the campus with their cameras and microphones.

“For me personally, [the day’s highlight] was being inside the debate and Spin Alley,” Fischer said. “For the group, it was being in the national spotlight.”

Neither the College Democrats nor the College Republicans have any desire to rest on their laurels now that the debate has passed. According to Guthorn, the Democrats intend to continue their political efforts past Thursday and up through Election Day on Nov. 4, with an emphasis on activism this week.

“Our focus has always been leading up to Oct. 8, the voter registration deadline for every student on campus,” Guthorn said. “We have registered probably most all of the students on the South 40. We need to make a really strong push for the off-campus students and off-campus dorms.”

Past the registration deadline, the Democrats will focus on informing voters and coordinating with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign base in Missouri, which Guthorn said is eager to work with Washington University students.

“We’re going to need to have a conversation with [Obama’s] campaign,” he said. “We’ll be canvassing and phone banking, speaking about the time leading up to Election Day. We’re going to use as many volunteers as we can take to help Wash. U. become knowledgeable about [Obama] and help persuade voters between now and Nov. 4.”

For the Republicans, the goal is similar. While Fischer recognizes the group’s smaller presence on campus, she said that the College Republicans’ activity on debate day helped show her what needs to be done between now and the election.

“I think it was clear that we were outnumbered [on Thursday], but it is energizing for the election because we know we have an uphill battle,” Fischer said. “It inspired us to keep plugging along and spread our message.”

In wanting to harness last week’s political energy, both groups will work with Student Union (SU) and will run programs on a campus whose normal level of activism is lower than it was leading up to the debate.

Both group leaders said that they want to see SU’s role limited to funding events, as they do not want the student political body expressing views on national issues.

“[SU] Treasury should be funding election events,” Fischer said. “Since it’s an election year they should focus on that. I think they’re doing a good job.”

Jeff Nelson, SU vice president of administration, agreed with the groups’ assessment of SU’s role and said that SU has been fulfilling its mission of supporting activities while remaining non-partisan.

“SU does not take positions on national political issues,” he said. “We do try to actively fund studs on campus that want to advocate for certain beliefs. We don’t fund these groups to campaign, but we do fund those groups to raise awareness of certain issues.”

Given the funding, Guthorn believes that the campus atmosphere will be more conducive to election activity than in past years due to the race’s importance.

“People realize that this is the deciding election for their lifetime,” he said. “Whoever wins the 2008 election, the policies decided in the next four years will grievously affect the remainder of their lives. I think students understand how monumental the 2008 presidential election is, more than 2000 and more than 2004.”

Although Fischer agrees that the campus is more active than usual, she added that there is still work to be done.

“I was surprised there weren’t more students around Chris Matthews,” Fischer said. “There are a lot of people who could be more informed than they are.”

Although the campus may be pulsating with political energy, both Guthorn and Fischer are skeptical of the possibility of substantial bipartisan programming in the future.

“I imagine if we win they won’t want to [program together], and if they win we won’t want to,” Fischer said. “We’re not going to rule it out, but due to the hostility of their group toward us, it doesn’t look likely.”

Reporting by Ben Sales and John Scott. Written by Ben Sales, David Song and Kat Zhao.

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