The two largest student-run political groups on campus are taking advantage of the original purpose of fall break: participating in the elections. The week before the presidential election, the College Democrats and College Republicans plan to canvass in two crucial battleground states.
From Oct. 27 to Nov. 3, the College Democrats will campaign for President Barack Obama in Florida, while the College Republicans will campaign for challenger Mitt Romney in Virginia.
College Democrats president Natalie Sanchez ’14 said the group chose to go to Florida because it is a must-win state for the Democrats.
“We’ve seen its importance. We saw how important it was in 2000,” Sanchez said, referring to the recount in Florida that gave the election to former president George W. Bush.
The College Republicans targeted Virginia for similar reasons. Virginia had not awarded its electoral votes to a Democrat since the election of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 until it went to Obama in 2008. College Republicans president Jacob Reses ’13 said he considers the 2008 election an anomaly and said he hopes that Romney can recapture Virginia’s 13 electoral votes for the Republicans.
“From 2012 on, every vote we get in Virginia will matter,” Reses said. “Say we have 10 people in Virginia, and they convince 10 people to vote for Governor Romney. That’ll be enough. That will be a difference. Every vote matters; every vote is accomplishing something.”
Reses is a columnist for The Daily Princetonian.
Because they are political clubs, the College Republicans and College Democrats seldom receive funding from the University. To finance the trips, Reses and Sanchez had to rely on other resources.
The College Republicans limited their expenses to avoid using any of their funds. They will drive down using their own cars and will be staying with members who live in Virginia.
On the other hand, the College Democrats are receiving funds from Obama for America’s Florida office, which agreed to finance the students’ housing. Princeton Progressives, an organization of left-leaning alumni, raised money to fund the College Democrats’ plane tickets and meals.
Even before the trip, both organizations have been actively canvassing and phone-banking for their respective candidates. Sanchez believes the stakes are high this time around.
“It’s really one of those elections. I know everybody says it, but it’s so important — it’s so consequential,” she said. “It’s going to determine what the direction of our country is going to be coming out of this recession. I really hope that people understand its importance and go vote and just make sure that they have a voice in what direction we take.”
Reses also emphasized the basic differences in ideology this election.
“For people who have been focused on the micro issues of this election — tax returns and gaffes and all of that — the stakes have really gotten obscured. But when you step back it’s very clear that this election is so important,” Reses said. “It’s about what we believe [in]. Do we think that Washington is competent enough to make these important decisions? And whether they should be making these decisions — we don’t think the answer to that is yes.”
Despite the activism of these invested students, history professor Sean Wilentz said he has not observed the same enthusiasm for the election among the student body as a whole. He said this phenomenon is not unique to the University but characteristic of the younger generation.
“This generation has shown a great deal of emotional concern, but whether that’s related to politics or not might vary,” Wilentz said. “I don’t think this generation is turned off to the idea of making this country a better place. I just don’t think they necessarily see electoral politics as being able to do that.”
History professor Kevin Kruse is unsure of why the excitement has faded. In 2008, Kruse noticed many students wearing Obama or McCain T-shirts to his lectures and hanging up posters around campus. This time around, he hasn’t noticed as much of that same enthusiasm.
“I don’t know if the high hopes that people had in 2008 were dimmed by the realities of governance or what,” Kruse said. “But 2012 may be a much more important election. It’s a choice between two very stark, very different candidates.”
The exact itineraries for the trips are still being determined. Both organizations hope to provide any services the campaign will need in the days before the Nov. 6 election day.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this article contained an inaccuracy in a quote by College Republicans president Jacob Reses '13. He said: "For people who have been focused on the micro issues of this election — tax returns and gaffes and all of that — the stakes have really gotten obscured." The 'Prince' regrets the error.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/16/31538/