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Students organize campus campaigns for candidates

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February 23, 2016

1:00 AM

Some students at the College of William and Mary have spent their semester knocking on doors, calling families across the country and gathering signatures to help their chosen presidential candidate win the party’s nomination. With the Virginia primary just one week away, those calls are ringing closer to campus.

While groups like Young Democrats and College Republicans are constant staples of campus life, election years bring out more specific political groups. The College has groups campaigning for Rubio, Clinton and Sanders — and one parody page on Facebook for Donald Trump, created by Venu Katta ’16.

All three real campaigns began last fall, although Students for Hillary is the only official organization recognized by the College. The Rubio campaign is still in the process of becoming clubs and getting its constitutions approved. However, the Sanders campaign voted against becoming an official group at its last meeting. This didn’t stop Students for Bernie from phone banking a few weeks ago when they decided to face the cold to call from the Sunken Garden — one space on campus you don’t have to book.

“We were excited to do the petitioning just because it’s a good way to get into the campaign mode again and it helps you organize people and get people excited,” Mehrotra said.

On the Students for Hillary side, the spark came when the Southern Regional Political Director for Clinton’s campaign Hans Goff ’05 contacted Young Democrats to gauge interest in starting a Clinton group on campus, according to Students for Hillary founder Sahil Mehrotra ’17. Mehrotra founded the student campaign alongside Hannah McKiernan ’17 and Kathleen Bryant ’18 last November.

While working to become an official organization, the group began gathering signatures so that Clinton’s name could be on the Virginia primary ballot. The Commonwealth requires a certain amount of registered voters’ signatures from each congressional district, according to Mehrotra.

“We were excited to do the petitioning just because it’s a good way to get into the campaign mode again and it helps you organize people and get people excited,” Mehrotra said.

Mehrotra and McKiernan had worked on the Monty Mason ’89 and John Miller local campaigns last fall, and McKiernan said that petitioning was also good at that time so that they didn’t overwhelm the Williamsburg community. Starting this spring, the group began adding new members and holding phone banks twice a week.

Young Democrats member Megan Carter-Stone ’16 was also inspired by Goff’s outreach to start an on-campus campaign — but for Bernie Sanders.

“It was just one of those things where I was like, ‘I have to do something; I’m a Bernie fan. I’ve always been a Bernie fan. This is something I have to do,’” Carter-Stone said. “I started approaching random people in the Grind who had ‘Students for Bernie’ stickers on their laptops, just asking them if they’d be interested in joining.”

It was at The Daily Grind that she met Zach Meredith ’19, who had already started organizing a Sanders student group and had contacted the national campaign, Carter-Stone said.

“We decided to instead nominate and elect six exec board members, and none of them had titles upon election,” Trisler said. “Then those six people actually decided among themselves which positions they thought they would excel at.”

She said that he had prepared more of the logistics for what could become an official organization, while she had focused more on mobilizing potential members.

Carter-Stone wrote the group’s first constitution, but she said that she didn’t want to be as involved from there on out.

Students for Bernie Chair Hope Trisler ’17 said she had been interested since the first unofficial meeting last fall. She said that she didn’t expect to be as involved as she now is.

The group has an executive board that was democratically elected — with a twist.

“We decided to instead nominate and elect six exec board members, and none of them had titles upon election,” Trisler said. “Then those six people actually decided among themselves which positions they thought they would excel at.”

The College’s Students for Rubio group also began last fall. Students for Rubio is a nationwide group with more than 20 chapters in Virginia, according to President Nicholas Hoffman ’16. Hoffman said a friend in South Carolina who works for Rubio’s campaign inspired him to spearhead the chapter here at the College.

“He told me about it and told me to reach out to the president here [in Virginia] so I just reached out to him and asked to start it because I’ve been a Rubio supporter since the summer,” Hoffman said.

Before contacting the state president for Students for Rubio, Hoffman said he gauged interest on campus by reaching out to people he knew who were more conservative or Republican. He said that even though the College is seen as a liberal campus, there is a strong conservative base and he’s happy to be able to give those students a voice on campus.

“I think people should feel like they have the confidence to say what they believe whether its Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, libertarian, moderate, whatever their political inclinations are; they shouldn’t feel silenced by the general perspective of whatever they observe as a political bias on campus,” Hoffman said. “I hope that this is the opportunity to do that with students and give them that opportunity to find a candidate they can support and stand behind regardless of what their political views are.”

Hoffman said that their early goal was to focus on other primary states — not Virginia yet — to ensure that Rubio would have a top-three spot by March 1.

All three groups will be canvassing and making phone calls in anticipation of the upcoming March 1 primary — dubbed “Super Tuesday” because many states hold primaries the same day. Virginia’s primary is open, meaning that a voter does not have to be affiliated with a particular party in order to vote in that party’s primary.

Voters may vote in either the Republican or Democrat primary, not both.

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About Author

Amanda Williams

Senior Staff Writer Amanda Williams '16 is an economics major from Denver, Colorado. She has previously been Chief Staff Writer, News Editor and Chief Copy Editor.