Democratic candidates, student groups gear up for Fifth District caucuses

During the convention, 250 elected caucus delegates will vote on a Democratic congressional nominee

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From left, candidates Andrew Sneathern, Roger Dean Huffstetler, Ben Cullop and Leslie Cockburn speak at a public debate March 17

Chandler Collins | Cavalier Daily

University students are getting involved with two upcoming Fifth District congressional caucuses — the Charlottesville City Caucus April 21 and the Albemarle County Caucus April 16 — to select the Democratic candidate in the 2018 midterm election.

At the caucuses, citizens will select delegates to be sent to the Democratic convention May 5.

The nominee will be selected at the convention from the current Democratic candidates — Leslie Cockburn, Ben Cullop, Roger Dean Huffstetler and Andrew Sneathern. The selected nominee will run against incumbent Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) in the November midterm elections. 

The Committee voted earlier this year to select the Democratic congressional nomination by convention instead of primary election.

The Democratic convention will be held in Farmville, Va. During the convention, 250 elected caucus delegates from the 23 localities of the Fifth District will vote to select a Democratic congressional nominee.

The past few months have featured significant engagement between the Democratic candidates and the Fifth District, including public forums, paneled debates about major issues and tours of the different counties. 

“It's incredibly inspiring to talk to folks who, despite how tough things are for them, are optimistic,” Ben Cullop said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “The stakes are high, but we know we're on the cusp of change in this country and students are going to drive that.”

In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Huffstetler addressed the intense level of involvement needed to prepare for the caucuses.

“My team and I have been working non-stop since last year to prepare for the upcoming caucuses. We have over 150,000 phone calls to voters and supporters and are making thousands more every single day,” Huffstetler said. 

Cockburn campaign’s said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that the campaign has recruited more than 532 volunteers and 30 organizing fellows who are running phone banks and volunteer events in order to maintain political momentum leading up to the caucuses.

Sneathern’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Moving forward in this caucus-convention process, members of community outreach in both student organizations and political campaigns are placing a strong emphasis on ensuring student accessibility to information about the election and to the voting booth itself.

A notable part of this outreach is making sure that voters are aware of the caucus process itself. In an attempt to inform students about the caucus process, the University Democrats hosted a “Caucus and Convention Crash Course” Wednesday evening, where attendants could ask learn about the process.

“One of our biggest efforts has been simply providing information to students, as the caucus-convention procedure is quite complex,” said Jackson Samples, a second-year College student and University Democrats campaign chair, in an email to The Cavalier Daily. 

The University Democrats are also mobilizing students for the caucuses through its coordination with the “Car2Vote” service for voters in the Charlottesville and Albemarle region. The free nonpartisan transportation service will be available to University students for both caucuses. 

As the election season continues, both the University Democrats and the College Republicans at the University of Virginia are taking an active role in engaging students in the upcoming elections and keeping them informed about the process.

“By showing up in large numbers, students have a real chance to make an influence,” Samples said. “Participation in the caucuses ensures that those running for office have an incentive to listen to our points of view and formulate their policy proposals accordingly.” 

Adam Kimelman — a third-year College student and chairman of the College Republicans — is working to get members of the College Republicans to vote in the Republican senatorial primary in June. Kimelman noted there are substantial challenges to mobilizing the student body for elections, regardless of political alignment.

“If you look at the members of our organization or the members of the University Democrats, most of us are very enthusiastic and we care very deeply about these issues,” Kimelman said. “But [students] just as a whole, a lot of them just kind of don’t care, that’s why there are lower turnout rates for students.”

Austin Hall, a fourth-year College student and University Campus Organizer for the Huffstetler congressional campaign, said the bigger problem is a lack of knowledge — students care about political issues, but they don’t know how to get involved.

“[Since the presidential election], people have been engaged and concerned about what’s going on,” Hall said. “But a lot of the time, they don’t realize what is out there for them to do in order to participate and to change things and make a difference. And so a lot of [outreach] is letting people know that there is a great candidate out there … and giving them the opportunity to turn their frustration into action, and make that difference.”

The Albemarle County Democratic caucus will be held at 5:30 p.m. April 16 at Monticello High School. The Charlottesville City Democratic caucus will be held at 1:15 p.m. April 21 at Burley Gym.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated there will be 160 delegates voting at the Fifth District Democratic convention. The number has been updated to match the actual figure, according to information from the Fifth District Democratic party.

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