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Gubernatorial campaigns court students

University Democrats, College Republicans volunteer time for McAuliffe, Cuccinelli

As the new academic year kicks into gear, so do the closing stages of the Commonwealth’s heated gubernatorial race between candidates Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe. The election is garnering significant national attention during an otherwise quiet campaign season, featuring two fiercely distinct candidates who, until recently, found themselves neck-in-neck in the polls.

As the Nov. 5 election date approaches, both campaigns are redoubling their efforts to attract college students in what the University’s Center for Politics calls the “nation’s marquee race in 2013.” Elizabeth Minneman, chairman of the College Republicans, cited Virginia college students as not only a critical voting bloc, but critical to the campaigns, as well.

“We have over 20 U.Va. students completing an internship with the Charlottesville GOP, so they’ll play an even bigger role in helping out the campaign,” she said.

Involvement and voter turnout often drop in years without a presidential election, and youth voters are generally less politically involved in statewide campaigns than in national ones.

“Aside from President Obama’s two general election campaigns in Virginia, state and local races have not been able to effectively turn out students, especially in off-year elections,” said Josh Yazman, the executive director of the Student Voter Project, a nonpartisan student-led organization in Blacksburg, VA dedicated to registering students to vote for the upcoming elections.

Yazman was troubled that only 89 students showed up to vote at the campus polling place in Blacksburg in 2011.

“Our goal is to build off of the voter registration efforts that groups like Organizing for America invested in students and we want to register or reregister 3,000 students to vote,” Yazman added. “We know that turnout starts with registration and we want to put in the legwork on a non-partisan basis to get that crucial registration work done.”

Many, however, believe that the social issues at the forefront of the gubernatorial race have kept University students interested. Kat Bailey, director of campaigns for the University Democrats, pointed particularly to Cuccinelli’s positions on academic liberty and sexual rights.

“Many people know him and are aware of his extreme conservatism, especially young people, who may have seen him [portrayed] in a less than favorable light on the ‘Daily Show,’” she said. “His far-right positions on social issues turn a lot of people off, especially students, and it seems like that is motivating them to pay attention to the election.”

Minneman, however, said she was concerned that Republican candidates recently have been perceived as too radical, discouraging young people from voting and learning about the issues surrounding elections.

“Our campaign will be relying on a number of student-run groups to help get the word out about the attorney general’s vision for growing the economy, creating jobs and ensuring every Virginia child has the opportunity to receive a quality education,” Cuccinelli campaign spokeswoman Anna Nix said.

On the Democratic side, the University Democrats work in tandem with the McAuliffe campaign. Students have the option to work directly with the McAuliffe campaign as an intern, but also have to option of volunteering through the University Democrats, Bailey said.

President Obama’s ability to win the youth vote in 2008 and again in 2012 highlighted the importance of mobilizing students on both sides of the political spectrum.

“Students can be important volunteers in campaigns – young people with stamina have the energy and enthusiasm to put in the long hours needed to keep a campaign moving and contact voters online, on the phone and in person,” said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Politics Prof. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball.


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