Campus campaigning ramps up

At the culmination of the 2000 presidential race, Curt Baker cast a vote for Al Gore in a school election. Eight years later, Baker, president of Students for Barack Obama , found himself in Denver watching the Democratic presidential candidate accept his partyâÄôs nomination. For Baker and politically enthusiastic students like him âÄîDemocrats and Republicans alike âÄî the upcoming presidential election presents an opportunity to affect the national political scene, and theyâÄôre taking their campaigns to the streets of the University. âÄúMost college students, all they know is the era of George Bush,âÄù Baker said. âÄúThe youth vote this time around is going to be huge. That could seal the deal.âÄù Recent election results show University precincts breaking strongly for Democratic presidential candidates. According to the city of Minneapolis and Secretary of State records, Al Gore won the University precinct in 2000 by an almost 650 vote margin. In 2004, the University split to two precincts, but Democrat John Kerry still won easily, more than doubling President BushâÄôs total with 2,400 hundred votes. Baker said his group is trying harder than ever this year to mobilize students for Election Day. âÄúWe were trying to convince people to choose Obama over whoever else,âÄù he said. âÄúThis fall, weâÄôre making sure people understand the importance of voting.âÄù Baker said the group signed up more than 5,000 students prior to the caucus, and has even loftier goals for the general election. âÄúWe know this campus is going to go 80-20 [in favor of Obama],âÄù he said. Others arenâÄôt quite as sure. Travis Symoniak , a St. Thomas University senior, heads Youth for McCain in Minnesota. âÄúIâÄôm going to be realistic; I donâÄôt think weâÄôre going to win the college,âÄù Symoniak said. âÄúItâÄôs going to be a lot closer, 60-40 at least.âÄù Symoniak said college organizations supporting presumptive Republican nominee John McCain have been gathering volunteers to staff phone banks and organize rallies. Symoniak said reaching out to independent and undecided voters is critical. âÄúIf they are confused about where they stand, or who stands for what, weâÄôre obviously open to helping them out,âÄù he said. University senior and College Republicans chairman Abdul Magba-Kamara said more people get interested in joining political organizations in election years âÄî the goal is to recruit 1,100 new members this fall. âÄúI donâÄôt feel this is necessarily an uphill battle,âÄù he said. Having the Republican National Convention in St. Paul also rejuvenates conservatives on campus, he said. âÄúIf you donâÄôt hear more about the conservative side from outside sources and you stick to just around campus you might end up losing some of your conservative mentality,âÄù he said. DFL at the U of M President Justin Henry said the RNC provides no great benefit to Republicans. âÄúPeople are obviously interested in the political spectacle,âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôve never seen young voters as excited as they are today for a candidate and thatâÄôs Barack Obama.âÄù Students for Obama will host campaign surrogates and provide information on ObamaâÄôs policies in upcoming meetings, Baker said. âÄúI donâÄôt want people voting for Barack just because heâÄôs cool and heâÄôs Barack Obama and heâÄôs hip,âÄù he said. Meanwhile, Symoniak said Republican supporters have affected politics at St. Thomas and other campuses. âÄúWeâÄôre changing the climate on campus,âÄù he said. âÄîAlex Robinson contributed to this report.