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Democrats Courting The Student Vote In Indiana

This story was written by Chris Herring, Michigan Daily

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Just hitting his stride during a talk here Wednesday night, Sen. Barack Obama was interrupted mid-sentence by a shouting supporter in the upper deck of Assembly Hall, Indiana University's basketball arena.

"I love you, Barack!" the fan shouted.

"If you really love me, you'll vote early for me," the Democratic presidential candidate responded.

Obama's request that people vote early - an option extended to all Indiana voters - was an effort to increase voter turnout among college students, a group that polls show has overwhelmingly supported the Illinois senator. But with many Indiana colleges in their last week of school, it's unclear to what extent that constituency will turn out.

With the final days of the school year upon them, most Indiana college students seem preoccupied, more concerned with final exams and leaving campus than the state's high-profile primary Tuesday.

As a result, Obama and his opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton, have been campaigning on campuses throughout the state, reminding students that they can vote early if they leave the state before the actual election.

With polls showing the candidates deadlocked in the Hoosier State and Obama holding a slight edge in delegates for the Democratic nomination, the campaigns have to get the message out to students in both Indiana and North Carolina, which also votes Tuesday.

Obama even spent the first 10 minutes of his talk here with Indiana University students explaining how one could vote early - including the exact locations and hours of operation for three nearby polling places - adding that he understood many students would be heading home for the summer.

"I need you guys to go ahead and early vote," Obama told the crowd of about 15,000 students. "If you can't do that and you're on the verge of going home, then I really need you to stick around until Tuesday. I need your vote."

Despite the candidates' pleas, though, some are convinced the end-of-the-year stress that comes with being in college will keep some students from the polls Tuesday.

Recognizing that college students largely flock to Obama's message of hope and change, Nathan Ashworth, chapter coordinator of Ball State University's Students for Obama, said he is "a little bit concerned" that some students will be busy with finals and moving out.

Ashworth, who had just completed an exam before being interviewed, said numerous students asked him for advice when they realized Ball State's residence halls would be closing May 3, leaving them with no place to stay if they wanted to vote in Tuesday's election. The Indianapolis native said his group planned ahead, and has been encouraging students to vote early since the voter registration deadline passed April 7.

Amanda Morris, president of Purdue University's chapter of Students for Hillary, said she expects her campus to be somewhat disengaged from politics until the exam period ends. Despite the fact that Madeline Albright, the first-ever woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State and one of Clinton's most important supporters, was due to visit campus last Thursday, Morris anticipated that few students would show for the event.

"I don't think many students will go to that," said Morris, who had just finished a Spanish literature final and had a psychology exam later that evening. "I just think right now we're at a critical point in time where students are more focused on their finals than they are on the race."

Even when Clinton spoke near the Purdue campus in downtown West Lafayette Wednesday afternoon, the New York senator drew a visibly older crowd of about 1,000 people to the event. Few studnts were in attendance for Clinton's stump speech on how to help America's struggling economy.

Some said the final exam periods would also limit how much students could campaign for the candidates through canvassing or phonebanking.

Purdue University sophomore Kathryn Morrical agreed to campaign for Clinton by making phone calls to registered Democrats in the area. She made the commitment under one condition, though - that she could work her phonebanking shift after her last exam.

"You want to help out, and you know that should, but then again, you know that finals are most important and that they should be your first priority," she said.