February 12, 2008
Students at the College this year are in a unique situation: For those registered to vote in Virginia, today’s vote actually has meaning.
p. Primaries in Virginia tend to be pure popularity contests. Because the commonwealth of Virginia votes relatively late in the primary season, both parties usually have selected their candidates before Virginians get a chance to make their opinions known.
p. This year, neither party’s candidacy has been decided. For Republicans, Arizona Sen. John McCain is the clear frontrunner. While he has a large lead over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, he has not yet locked up the nomination, making Virginia critical for the underdogs.
p. For Democrats, there is a tight race between Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. The candidates are virtually neck and neck.
p. As a result, Democrats on campus have been more active in their campaign work recently.
p. Alden Leonard ’08 described himself as the “campus Hillary representative.” He leads the organization Tribe for Hillary. He and a group of Clinton supporters went to Chesapeake Saturday to see Bill Clinton speak on behalf of his wife. They then traveled to Richmond, where Hillary Clinton and Obama spoke to thousands of supporters.
p. “As for activism,” Leonard said, “I’ve solicited student organization endorsements, written an editorial rebuttal of The Flat Hat’s endorsement [of Obama] and I’m organizing some publicity efforts leading up to Tuesday.”
p. Members of both Tribe for Hillary and Students for Barack Obama have participated in phone and neighborhood canvassing efforts.
p. “Phone canvassing is basically going door-to-door by phone,” Leonard said. “It’s one of the most important tasks in the lead-up to an election because it targets undecided voters and encourages them to get to the polls.”
p. Neighborhood canvassing involves the same process, only on foot.
p. In many ways, volunteers — many of them students — are the foot soldiers of campaigns that span the country. They speak when the candidates themselves cannot. Moreover, they do the leg work to even get their candidate considered.
p. As a member of Students for Barack Obama, Patricia Ruane ’09 “collected signatures towards the total number required in order for Obama to be put on the ballot in Virginia, as well as pledge cards (where people could pledge to vote for him) to help the campaign managers better target their efforts.”
p. Unlike their Democrat counterparts, Republican students have been less busy leading up to today’s election. Many worked over winter break in states like New Hampshire, whose delegates are awarded very early on in the primary season.
p. Steven Nelson ’10 traveled to New Hampshire to campaign for McCain. He helped with phone calls, knocking on doors, waving signs and organizing events. “Campaigning in New Hampshire over winter break was an amazing experience, and at a time when there were no foregone conclusions on either side as to who the winner would be.”
p. Like many other Republicans, Nelson has been sitting back leading up to Virginia’s primary.
p. “I am currently not working on the campaign in Virginia due to the impracticality of making any difference whatsoever by making phone calls, etc.”
p. That doesn’t mean they’ve lost interest. According to College Republican Chair Stephen Salvato ’10, several members went to the Conservative Political Action Conference last week. “This year was very exciting because on Thursday, it was at CPAC that [former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt] Romney dropped out of the race,” he said. In addition to Romney, Salvato said that they also saw McCain, Huckabee, Paul and President George W. Bush.
p. Today, many of these students will stand outside polling places, hoping to convince undecided voters that their candidate is the best. For once, their voices will mean something.