Student groups involved in political campaign season

Mon, 2008-10-13 08:19 -- univcomm
October 13, 2008

This year isn’t politics as usual at Anderson University.

Two student groups are working around campus to win support for the two major candidates. Members of both clubs reported heavy interest in the McCain vs. Obama showdown, judgment day for which is about three weeks away.

“This year, because of the election, we’ve seen a lot more politics on campus,” said sophomore Kimberly Hathaway, president of AU College Republicans.

The group’s membership has nearly doubled since last year, from eight to 15 “active members,” and not all of the new participants are freshmen, Hathaway said.

Since school began, Hathaway and her counterpart with AU College Democrats, Michael Kellermeyer, said they’ve pushed to ensure that students are registered to vote. Both agreed that the vast majority of AU students would vote absentee in their home districts.

The students in College Republicans will also continue knocking on doors and working phone banks for local candidates in the weeks before Election Day, and Hathaway said soon they’ll be making calls in support of John McCain from GOP headquarters in downtown Anderson.

One local candidate the College Republicans have campaigned for is Frank Burrows, who is running for Indiana’s 36th District House seat. On Friday, club members sat in a campus dining hall during the lunch rush for a casual conversation with Burrows and his wife, Janet.

The students said their peers were following all the major issues, from the war to education, but many said the economy seemed to be the most critical.

“The election will determine who is president when students graduate, so they can’t just stay in their Anderson bubble,” sophomore Megan Bontrager said.

While the College Republicans are becoming involved in many local races, Kellermeyer said, the students he knows and talks to are entirely focused on the presidential race.

“No one’s talking about state or local politics,” he said.

After a few years in inactivity, the College Democrats reorganized this year with seven involved members. Their faculty advisor is Terri Austin, the incumbent candidate running against Burrows in House district 36.

Kellermeyer said he expected membership in College Democrats to be triple what it stands at now. While Barack Obama has strong support among the student body, Kellermeyer said, there is a stigma attached to identifying oneself as Democrat or liberal.

Most students prefer to call themselves independent voters, Kellermeyer said, because it’s “hip.”

“People are cool if you’re feeding the homeless,” he said, “but as soon as you say ‘I’m a Democrat,’ that draws in homelessness, abortion and gay rights, and I think people are opposed to that.”

Students were mixed on whether McCain or Obama had more support on campus, and that included students not involved in either of the political clubs.

Nicholas Hunnicutt, a freshman from LaOtta, Ind., said he was backing McCain because he preferred the candidate’s stance on energy and gun control. Hunnicutt said most students seemed to favor McCain, too.

“I thought the campus was more liberal, but now I’m here, more people are talking about it, and it seems more conservative.”

Sophomore Jill Davis said more students appeared to support Obama, but she was still undecided.

It’s been very hard for her to make a decision based on news coverage, she said, and after months and months of hearing about the presidential race, she has become apathetic and disinterested.

“It’s very discouraging,” he said. “When I got into it, I decided that I really didn’t like either of the candidates.”

College Democrats of America

College Republicans of America

— Barrett Newkirk is a reporter for the Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Ind. Story republished with permission.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.