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Campaigning College Students

This story was written by Amanda Peterson, The Crimson White
When it comes to campaigning during the presidential primary season, candidates have grown more technologically savvy.

Almost all of the candidates' Web sites include blogs and frequent updates. Republican candidate Rep. Ron Paul has set fundraising records through online donations. Democratic hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton's Web site features a scrolling list of people who recently helped her campaign.

Along with the Web sites and blogs, the campaigns' use of technology is attracting more tech-savvy voters - college students and 18- to 24-year-olds - and getting them involved.

Even though Sen. John McCain, a Republican candidate, does not have a campaign office in Alabama, Ben Foster joined the McCain campaign through its Web site, and his involvement has snowballed.

"They started ringing the call for delegates, and I jumped at the chance for that," said Foster, a junior majoring in telecommunication and film and political science.

When he jumped at the chance to be a delegate for McCain, Foster also joined the Alabama steering committee for McCain's campaign.

Foster has seen support for McCain from every age group, but said there are a significant number of veterans who support McCain, as well as a strong contingency of college students who want to help.

At the state GOP meeting in Prattville, where they handed out fliers and information about McCain, Foster said the McCain campaign had the largest number of college students - 10 to 15 students, he said, compared to one or two for most of the other campaigns.

Foster said he has not found it difficult to make time to help with the McCain campaign. Other college student volunteers often have more time than someone who works a regular 9 to 5 job, he said.

He also said he thinks students are excited about the election because it is their first chance to vote in a presidential election. Foster said this would be his first chance because he has a late November birthday.

"They're at that time where they're getting their first shot at voting," he said.

Web sites and phone parties

Matt Farrar, the national youth chairman for Fred Thompson for President, had to a little bit of juggling with his schedule and a lot of driving.

Thompson, however, withdrew from the presidential race earlier this week and ended his campaign.

Farrar is a senior majoring in political science at Florida State University, but he has been at the main campaign offices in Iowa and South Carolina on the day of both states' primaries, making calls and helping out.

"It's been a little bit crazy," Farrar said. "But it's been very rewarding."

Technology has played a large role in getting students involved with the campaign, Farrar said, because the campaign is pushing to get as many college students involved as possible.

"A big factor in involving the students is the Web site," Farrar said. "It is in a way college students understand."

Carol Cassel, a UA political science professor, said the Internet has changed the campaigns because it provides more rapid communication and interaction. And when campaigns are looking for supporters and volunteers, she said the Internet provides an easy way to contact them.

On top of involvement through the Internet, she said candidates have seen more young voters in the crowds when they are speaking at campaign events - especially Sen. Barack Obama.

And because there is no incumbent this year, coupled with the country's mood for change, Cassel said voters have more to choose from in the primaries.

"It's an open election, so both parties have an open selection process with a number of candidates," Cassel said.

Involved voters

For the Obama campagn, it is very important to get the younger voters involved, said Patricia Evans, who works at the Obama campaign office in Tuscaloosa.

But she said they do not have to actively recruit to draw in the students.

"They just come. It's just an attraction," Evans said. "There's not a push from our end, but they just come."

So far in the primaries, there has been increasing numbers of younger voters participating, so Evans said it is important for the campaign to get those voters involved in Alabama to play a part in an Obama win.

She said she is amazed at some of the support that students give to help the campaign.

"The students that come in here, they do have very hectic schedules with class and work, but they find time to come here and support Barack Obama," Evans said.

Alex Flachsbart, a junior majoring in political science, said he has been helping with the Obama campaign, but if it had not been for his calendar, Flachsbart said, he would not have been able to balance his schedule.

He said he got involved after hearing about the Obama campaign through College Democrats. He contacted people involved with the campaign, e-mailed local supporters of Obama and decided to run for a position as a delegate for Obama.

Now, he said, he and other UA students such as Kendra Key are trying to work with the campaign office in Tuscaloosa to connect with students.

"We've chalked around campus, but the weather doesn't like us very much," Flachsbart said. "There's usually at least one student phone banking in the office from 9 to 5 everyday."

Obama is the only presidential candidate to have an office in Tuscaloosa, and one of the only candidates who has an office in Alabama. (The Obama campaign also has offices in Birmingham and Montgomery.)

Flachsbart said he thinks the physical outreach of a campaign office or direct involvement encourages the amount of involvement he said they have seen in Tuscaloosa County.

But more than just supporting a candidate, Flachsbart said he hopes every students registers to vote and uses their vote.

"I would encourage every student to register to vote because this is the defining moment of our young generation," Flachsbart said.

The candidates chosen in the primaries will be the candidates students will have to choose for president in November, and Flachsbart said that person will determine national policies for the next four to eight years.

"If we don't step up to the plate, we're going to regret it for the next decade," he said.
© 2008 The Crimson White via U-WIRE