Swarthmore College senior Anne Kolker can pinpoint the moment when she regained her faith in the American political system.
It came over three years ago, when she was a newly arrived first-year at Swarthmore. After returning to the U.S. from living abroad for most of her life, Kolker was searching for a better understanding of the driving forces of American politics and hoping for some relief from the cynicism of the 2004 election.
She found this relief when her father sent her the link to a speech given at the Democratic National Convention by Barack Obama, who was, at the time, a relatively unknown state senator from Illinois. As Kolker watched Barack Obama speak on getting beyond partisan politics and unifying the country, she was brought to tears.
"This is it; this is what I was waiting for," Kolker said. "That speech still makes me cry whenever I watch it. It was love at first sight, I guess."
As Obama's popularity increased and he received increasing media attention, Kolker, like many other young supporters, began following his career. When he decided to run for the presidency, Kolker was eager to help in any way she could and, when the opportunity presented itself, she became the state coordinator of Pennsylvania Students for Barack Obama.
Kolker is just one of many politically active students at Swarthmore who have become involved in supporting either Obama or Senator Hillary Clinton, as the race for the Democratic presidential nomination comes down to states with late primaries such as Pennsylvania."I didn't quite realize what I was getting myself into [as state coordinator], in terms of Pennsylvania actually mattering in a big way in the spring of my senior year," Kolker said.
Six months ago, few predicted that Pennsylvania would be viewed as a prize of great consequence in a protracted race to the party nomination.
But the state is now center stage in the battle for the Democratic nomination, and students on campus are jumping at the opportunity to help their candidate get the upper hand. Both Swarthmore Students for Barack Obama and Swarthmore Students for Hillary Clinton have.
"We have been doing a lot of visibility work," said Doug Gilchrist-Scott '09, a member of Swarthmore Students for Hillary Clinton who has been doing a lot of volunteering off campus. "That involves going to well traveled places and waving signs, handing out material and just reminding people to vote."
Members of Swarthmore Students for Hilary Clinton are also canvassing the campus and the surrounding area to talk to voters about Clinton's policies and to distribute literature, according to Michael May '11, one of the founders of the group.
The group has also brought several speakers to campaign for Clinton on campus including Harriet Cornell, a New York legislator and the co-director of Surrogates for Hillary, and Judy Lichtman, the Senior Policy Advisor for Clinton's campaign. Richard Sestak, Congressman Joe Sestak's brother, also made an appearance along with other supporters from the local campaign.
While support among young voters for Clinton is not as widely publicized as support among young voters for Obama, there is still a significant group of students on campus who support Clinton's bid for the nomination.
"Obviously it is a little more difficult to find support on a college campus for Hillary than Barack, but we have gotten a lot of interest," May said. "People are very enthusiastic. We have had about 45 people involved in some capacity so far."
With the Pennsylvania primary less than a week away, the pace of campaigning has increased. "It definitely has ramped up," May said. "Not only are people a little more willing to be active in campaigning, we also have had alot more prodding from the campaign office to get them volunteers."
Students for Barack Obama have also been working on recruiting voters and making sure that students have the information they need to make their decision."We have been focusing on getting the word out about what Obama's policies are, letting his ideas speak for themselves and just trying to reach as many people as we can," said Finlay Logan '08, the volunteer coordinator for Swarthmore Students for Barack Obama.
Along with canvassing and phone banking, Obama supporters have attended campaign events off campus. Obama spoke at Strath Haven High School two weeks ago, and his wife, Michelle Obama, spoke at Haverford on Tuesday.
Swarthmore Students for Obama is also bringing in other key Obama campaigners this week, including Betsy Myers, the Chief Operating Officer of the campaign and the head of Women for Obama, to talk more specifically about women's issues, as well as holding a panel of Swarthmore professors to talk about the major issues facing the county, like the economy, health care and the war in Iraq, according to Logan.
"We think that the more people see of [Obama's] policies, of his experience and of his leadership style, the more supporters we can get here on campus," said Jesse Gottschalk, the coordinator for Swarthmore Students for Barack Obama.
These events are primarily aimed at students who are still undecided, but the Students for Obama are still trying to get information out to everyone who is voting. "We have literally gone and knocked on every door on campus and talked to as many people as possible," Logan said. "We are really running an information campaign."
This information campaign has been bolstered by the College Democrats, which helps any students wanting to volunteer for the Democratic Party, regardless of the specific candidate. "We are fortunate to have an organization for each of the candidates," said Molly Weston '10, the president of the College Democrats.
Although many see the division of the Democratic Party as negative, Weston is glad that so many students are involved. "It's just a great time to be a Democrat, especially in Pennsylvania," Weston said. "After the primary, some of us will be sad and some will be happy, but either way we will have a great candidate."
While the Democrats on campus are still battling towards the nomination, the College Republicans are looking ahead to the general election. "We decided ... to try to be an outlet for conservative political thought," said Kyle White '08, a member of the College Republicans. "We want to get people involved, so we want to provide SBC funds, or vans, if people want to bring a speaker onto campus or go see a speaker."
Both the College Democrats and College Republicans will be watching the Pennsylvania primary closely, as both groups recognize that the primary will be a key factor in deciding the nominees in the general election. "It's been a fun ride and I'm really pumped about there only being seven days left until the primary, so we can show what we have accomplished over the past six months," Kolker said.
© 2008 Swarthmore Phoenix via U-WIRE