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Conservatives Find Their Place At Penn

This story was written by Colin Kavanaugh, Daily Pennsylvanian

During the final presidential debate on Wednesday night, fewer than a dozen students crowded around a living room TV, tuned in to Fox News and cheered on their candidate: Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee.

On a largely liberal campus, the College Republicans are ready to share their message with whomever is willing to listen. And they're well aware that they're fighting against the tide.

"It's a great challenge," said College junior Zac Byer, president of the College Republicans. "But we're dedicated, intelligent and concerned about the issues."

The group's relatively small size, numbering about 50 active members, pales in comparison to the Penn Democrats, one of the largest organizations on campus.

However, Byer said he believes the group is strengthened by its size and the unity of its members.

The group seeks to unify members around a message of small government and opens its doors to Republicans of all leanings on fiscal and social issues.

"We don't want to limit students into a distinct category of Republicanism," Byer said.

The diversity of the group was evident at Wednesday's debate party, when McCain and Democratic nominee Barack Obama were asked about their vice-presidential selections.

The McCain campaign has presented his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, as a socially conservative reformer. But Palin, who has been criticized for her lack of experience, did not initially play well to the all-male crowd at the College Republicans party.

One member jokingly suggested McCain say "pass" when it was time for McCain to explain his choice of Palin.

But despite "what kind of conservative" the group's members consider themselves, the group's primary function has been to offer an alternative place for "students who aren't liberal and are interested in politics," Byer said.

Despite their minority status in Philadelphia, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a six-to-one ratio, the group frequently participates in events, both on- and off-campus.

In recent weeks, the group has traveled into the more-competitive suburbs to help Republican candidates in local races.

College senior Kelly Siddle, who represented the Republicans at a debate with the Penn Dems a couple of weeks ago, said it's important for the group to get their ideas out there, and that their views are typically "very well received."

"There's a lot of excitement about Barack Obama," Siddle said, "but no one knows what he stands for."

Even with a majority of students on campus registered as Democrats, Byer and Siddle are happy to discuss politics with people.

"Most people respect that there's another side," Byer said. "And we're proud of what we're accomplishing on campus."

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