Ankur Patankar | Presentation DirectorElections 2012
Taking charge: SU students work with local and national candidates to get the vote out
James Ward, president of College Republicans, is having trouble organizing the group’s weekly trips to downtown Syracuse to campaign for Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle.
Too many people are interested.
“We’re limited in terms of cars and we have a lot of freshmen getting involved this year,” he said. “But we’re averaging 10 people every Saturday and our numbers are up.”
On the other side of the political aisle, Colin Crowley looked around at the students who had stayed after the College Democrats meeting to phone bank for Obama, and realized he didn’t recognize anyone there.
“One of the Obama for America representatives was there, just to introduce herself and help out at the first [phone bank], and I was telling her, ‘I don’t know these people,’” Crowley, president of College Democrats and a columnist for The Daily Orange, said with a laugh. “I don’t even remember meeting them, so it was really impressive to me that so many of them stayed.”
With the 2012 elections less than two months away, students of all political affiliations are teaming up with presidential and congressional campaigns to get out the vote and influence the outcome of the elections.
Sometimes, affecting the outcome of a particular election means traveling. Every week, members of College Democrats make the two-hour trek to Scranton, Pa. to canvass door to door for Obama, Crowley said.
The Obama campaign works with college groups to determine where their efforts would be most useful and, with New York a historically democratic state, the Obama campaign assigned the group to the Scranton area, Crowley said.
Crowley estimates that last weekend alone the group knocked on more than 300 doors. College Democrats also phone banks for Obama twice a week from Syracuse, calling independent voters in Scranton, Crowley said.
“All politics is local. We can have more of an effect on a local election.”
James Ward, president of College Republicans
“We’re really trying to focus on things that are actually going to make a difference in the campaign,” he said.
Maya Kramer, a sophomore English and textual studies major, recently got involved with College Democrats and has phone banked for Obama. She said in an email that she decided to get involved in the campaign because she believes in Obama’s policies and thinks he deserves a second term.
Through Kramer has phone banked for candidates in the past, she said she was surprised some Pennsylvania voters were still undecided.
“I think that Romney and Obama are so different, it would be a rather straightforward decision,” she said.
College Republicans are also focused on making a difference, but in this case it means focusing on the local congressional campaign rather than the national election.
New York has historically been a democratic state and the Electoral College limits the effect College Republicans can have on the national race, Ward said.
“All politics is local,” he said. “We can have more of an effect on a local election.”
That local election is the hotly contested 24th Congressional District race between the incumbent Buerkle and democratic challenger Dan Maffei.
The race is a rematch of the 2010 election, in which Buerkle unseated Maffei by less than 700 votes, according to the Siena Research Institute.
This year’s election appears to be just as close. According to a Sept. 13 poll by the institute, the two candidates are neck and neck, with each receiving the support of 43 percent of likely voters surveyed.
In the hopes of breaking the deadlock, College Republicans have been traveling to downtown Syracuse every Saturday to make phone calls and canvass door to door for Buerkle, Ward said.
David Ray, Buerkle’s campaign manager, said the campaign has reached out to students at many colleges in the district besides SU, including Le Moyne College and the State University of New York at Oswego. In general, the students have all been great and very helpful with the campaign, he said.
“A lot of students are interested in politics, and they want to make a difference and have an impact on the political system,” Ray said. “This is a great way for them to get plugged in.”
Marissa Fenning, a freshman international relations and political science major, has been campaigning for Buerkle with College Republicans. This is the first campaign she’s participated in, but she said in an email that she hopes to be more involved in the future.
Though she hasn’t been able to canvass yet because of poor weather, Fenning said she has done phone surveys for the campaign and has received some interesting responses.
“When I asked one man if he thought Obamacare was good or bad for the country he responded, ‘Everything Obama does is bad!’” she said. “Some of the people I called were humorous like he was and that was a fun and interesting part of the phone surveying.”
College Democrats have also been involved in the congressional race and are campaigning for Buerkle’s opponent, Maffei, by canvassing and phone banking, Crowley said.
Marc Brumer, a spokesman for the Maffei campaign, said the Maffei campaign has also been working with students at various colleges throughout the district. The students have been particularly effective in terms of helping the campaign establish direct contact with voters, he said.
“Having that in-person conversation is critical,” Brumer said. “There’s no better way to help voters understand what Dan and the campaign are all about.”
The experience is helpful for the students as well, Brumer said, as it gives them a good chance to learn about campaigns and make a difference in the election.
“It’s a good opportunity for them because the students care,” he said. “They care about Central New York because they live here.”
And in a close race where every vote matters, both groups are working to register SU students through voting drives on campus.
“The last election was decided by 648 votes,” Crowley said. “So if we can register 1,000 voters on campus, that could easily swing the election.”
But regardless of political party, both groups agree that students can learn a lot by getting involved in campaigns.
“You learn how the system works, you learn what motivates politicians, you learn how things work and I think that’s helpful, and it puts things into perspective when you’re voting,” Crowley said.
For Ward, his involvement in politics provides a nice change from his engineering studies, as well as an opportunity to connect with other young conservatives. He said it’s been great to see so many passionate conservatives on campus get involved in politics.
Said Ward: “It’s one thing to talk about it and another thing to act on it.”
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