AS THE SUN dipped down below, a fiery band of scarlet encompassed the horizon, endowing the quickly deadening sky with a moment of subtle beauty. As I sat in Newcomb Plaza, between the Bookstore and the Pav, I felt inspired by the gentle and unassuming magnificence of the sunset. A woman standing next to me commented on it, saying that she felt like the sunset fit the evening's mood just right -- a great evening to be out rallying for a great candidate, Bill Bradley.
Those who support Sen. Bradley in his attempt to win the Democratic presidential nomination always talk about his calm demeanor and gentle nature; those of us who have been fortunate enough to meet him will attest to it. Bradley's soft, intellectual speaking style and his straightforward approach to campaign issues has won him countless supporters around the country, particularly college aged voters and other young adults.
In a public address, law student Adam Green, leader of Students for Bill Bradley, said, "We're the grassroots, but our numbers are growing. No other candidate has people out working around here." Much of Bradley's support base has come from young voters, many of whom -- including a group of students from the University -- have made trips to various primary states to campaign. The reason why Bradley has such a following among younger voters is twofold: He has spoken definitively on issues that are of greater concern to young voters -- race relations, education and gun control, to name a few -- and his image as a political outsider is appealing to many youths who find themselves disenfranchised by "politics as usual."
Nicole Valentine, a student in the law school, said of Bradley, "He's committed to the interests of African-Americans and of other minorities." In a campaign already besieged with the hint of racial and ethnic bigotry -- the controversy surrounding George W. Bush's speech at Bob Jones University, a South Carolinian school outlaws interracial dating, and McCain's accusation that Bush is "anti-Catholic" -- a significant number of minority voters have embraced Bradley's candidacy, notably the Rev. Al Sharpton, leader of the National Action Network.
Bradley's stance on educational reform also has drawn in voters. Bradley has pleaded to "build a system founded on the belief that all our children -- regardless of where they live or socio-economic circumstances -- will be expected to achieve at high levels." This stance bears a notable distinction from his Republican and Democratic counterparts, who have hidden the issue of education in a large part beneath the shroud of states rights.
But perhaps most important -- judging by the enthusiastic reaction from those in attendance at the rally -- is Bradley's stance on gun control. Green explains, "There are some candidates who are pro gun control and then there are some who are pro gun control. Bradley is definitely pro gun control."
This issue seems to resonate particularly well with young voters who understand the threat of violence -- particularly school-related -- in a more personal way than their older counterparts. Bradley's desire, as his campaign literature states, to "ban the distribution, sale and manufacture of junk handguns and require registration for all handguns" may be what separates him most from the rest of the field.
Specific issues aside, Bradley's image as a combatant against Washington-insider politics also attracts the hearts and minds of the college-aged. In the wake of the numerous scandals that have plagued the incumbent administration, a large number of voters feel disillusioned with the system as it stands now, and are looking for a candidate who will restore a sense of integrity to the executive branch.
One speaker at the rally, a Charlottesville area schoolteacher said, "Bill Bradley is the kind of man who will restore dignity to the office of the president." Throughout this campaign, both pundits and common citizens alike have made reference to Bradley as a man of integrity and resolve, a man who will, "show leadership by standing by his convictions," as Valentine noted.
Despite the warm reception, however, Bradley's chances in the nominating race look bleak, unless he can pull off a win in the quickly approaching New York primary. Still, grassroots supporters are enthusiastic and the fight continues. Adam Green said, "There are two ways you can campaign, the smart way and the not-so-smart way. The not-so-smart way would be to go home from this rally and say 'that was cool.' The smart way would be to get on a bus and go up to New York with us next week!"
(Rob Walker is a Cavalier Daily associate editor.)