For most Princeton students, Nov. 4, 2008, is just another date on next year's calendar. But for Libby Hutton '09, it will mark the culmination of months of work trying to influence the course of U.S. presidential politics.
Hutton, the executive director of Princeton Students for John Edwards, spent her last spring break and summer vacation at the former Democratic North Carolina senator's campaign headquarters in Chapel Hill, N.C., and is working for his campaign this year in Iowa, New Hampshire and New Jersey.
She is one of a number of Princeton students who are already heavily involved in the 2008 presidential campaign, which is shaping up to be one of the longest in U.S. history. Students have created campus groups for Edwards and fellow Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), as well as Republican candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. A group is in the works for Democratic candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).
"I think the fact that these groups are starting up so early shows Princeton students' interest even in the primaries," College Democrats president Julia Brower '08 said. "This is a new thing for everyone to deal with such long campaigns."
The 2008 presidential election is the first since 1928 in which an incumbent president or vice president has not been a candidate, which has further fueled the rush to begin electoral efforts earlier than usual.
"I think that this cycle is much more exciting than ones in the past because there is an actual competition," Hutton said. "There is a feeling that things haven't already been decided."
Changes in technology and the use of the internet have also created a campaign environment that is more conducive to student involvement. "You can look at something like the CNN/YouTube debate," College Republicans president Jon Fernandez '08 said. "If you have a question or a point to raise, there is actually a chance that someone will take notice."
Candidates have been quick to capitalize on these new technologies in hope of gaining an edge with the 18- to 25-year-old crowd, a coveted demographic often stereotyped as web-savvy but relatively apathetic about elections. Obama and Clinton, as well as Republican candidates Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, all have profiles on facebook.com.
Former Arkansas governor and Republican candidate Mike Huckabee has even been endorsed by actor Chuck Norris, who became an Internet phenomenon last year when humorous "Chuck Norris facts" began popping up all over the Internet.
Fernandez suggested that some of the primary candidates may be inherently more appealing to young people than their political rivals.
"I think there are a few candidates in the race for both parties that have star power," he said. "That presence and the media attention that comes with it has led them to popularity on college campuses."
Obama is often characterized as one of these star candidates, with a strong following on many campuses.
"A lot of college students might like Obama because he is attractive and he's young and he's funny," said Rachel Bernard '09, who created the Facebook group "If Barack Obama Wasn't Married I'd Be All Over That."
But despite her enthusiasm for Obama's personal appeal, Bernard said she has yet to decide which candidate she will support in 2008.
"Just because I would have sex with Obama does not necessarily mean I would vote for him," she said.
Other Princeton students also said they aren't yet sure how they will cast their ballots when Election Day rolls around.
"Students here are definitely taking a conservative approach to their decisions," Hutton said. &qot;I think people are really trying to get to know the positions of the different candidates before they get to a final decision on who they are supporting."
Fernandez said he believes that college students - more so than other voters - make their decisions based on which candidate's policies most closely align with their own.
"On college campuses we have the luxury of really being able to take a hard look at these people based on ideology and message alone," he said. "It has a lot to do with being in an academic environment during an election."
Hutton agreed that policies are important to the college crowd, but said some issues stand out more than others.
"I think that the youth vote has its own sets of issues that it is concerned about," she said. "On both sides of the aisle we are very concerned about the environment and healthcare. These are issues that will need to be addressed in the next few years, and that is really mobilizing people."
And, though not every student has jumped into the electoral fray as early as Hutton and her fellow political junkies, there's still time to pick a favorite candidate: 353 days remain until Election Day 2008.
© 2007 The Daily Princetonian via U-WIRE