Campus campaign strategies shift ahead of midterms

Student leaders are emphasizing voter outreach rather than specific candidates.

Campaigners for Raymond Dehn, senior Sonia Neculescu and sophomore Aisha Chughtai, offer rides across the Washington Avenue Bridge on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Ellen Schmidt, Daily File Photo

Campaigners for Raymond Dehn, senior Sonia Neculescu and sophomore Aisha Chughtai, offer rides across the Washington Avenue Bridge on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Isabella Murray

As November’s midterm elections approach, University of Minnesota student leaders are shifting away from candidate-driven campaign strategies. 

Political mobilization around campus before August’s primary elections was focused on specific campaigns and student groups, according to student leaders. Now, they say say general election involvement has shifted — student energy is directed more toward voter outreach and collaborative event planning to encourage student voter turnout.

“We’re talking way less about candidates now and more about getting people to vote and pledging to vote,” said Natasha Sohni, campaign candidate for Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis.

August’s primary elections saw historic voting numbers and a focus on student participation in campaigns, which was in part due to some candidates’ engagement around campus, said Sonia Neculescu, chair of DFL Senate District 60 and founder of Women for Political Change.

“In the primaries, we had inspiring candidates that really activated students,” Neculescu said. “We saw a surge of engagement.”

Democratic leaders said students on campus were especially enthusiastic to advocate for former gubernatorial candidate Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, and her running mate, Rep. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, in the primaries.

“If we think about people around 18 to 24,  a lot of them were excited about ‘the Erins’ because they made more of an effort to reach out to our age group,” Sohni said. 

Although Murphy’s campaign ended after Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., won the DFL primary, student activism still exists on campus, Neculescu said. But the focus is not solely on campaign work. 

“We haven’t seen that student base go towards Walz, but are engaged in a different way,” Neculescu said.

Students are instead focusing on electoral organizing — registering voters and advocating for early voting by door-knocking, phone-banking and canvassing.

“I think that is because there is normally such a low amount of students that turn out, so our number one priority is to make sure that students are able to get to the polls,” said Michaela Muza, campus organizer with the DFL Youth Coordinated Campaign.

Democratic student groups have combined efforts to engage in these means of political activism through a larger coalition, which they call the University of Minnesota coalition, Sohni said. The group includes Students for Ilhan, College Democrats, students working with Sen. Tina Smith’s, D-Minn., campaign for Senate, former members of Murphy’s campaign and the DFL Youth-Coordinated Campaign.

Sohni said the coalition was created because the respective organizations’ leaders realized they were working for similar causes. The groups decided a combined effort would push any individual objectives further.  

“This has never been done before,” Sohni said. “It’s created a lot of steam in the area.”

Although not a registered student group, the coalition provides updates from member groups and plans efforts and events. 

“All of the missions of all of our groups is to make sure that young people are engaged in politics,” Muza said. “Instead of working separately to do that, we work together.”