Students Help Many Different Candidates In Primary Season

This story was written by Matt Radler, Daily Northwestern
While his peers weathered winter storms indoors over winter vacation, Joseph Fink spent his time outside knocking on doors in Marshalltown, Iowa, as a volunteer for Illinois presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama's campaign.

The Communication senior was one of many NU students who took their support from campus to the campaign trail in preparation for the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and the tough primary contests to follow.

NU students spread out across the state in the days leading up to Jan. 3 to canvass for both Republican and Democratic candidates. Though College Democrats and College Republicans cannot endorse specific candidates, individual students joined other student activists from across the country.

"I was working with a lot of out-of-state volunteers," Fink said. "There were even a couple of Canadians out there with us, knocking on doors."

Fink devoted his free days to Obama's Iowa campaign, often clocking more than eight hours a day. On the night of the caucus, he served as a precinct captain while the results came in, eventually confirming the Illinois senator's victory.

"In the days before, we simply out-hustled the competition," Fink said. "Every time I hear him speak, I become more convinced."

Andrew Thompson, a WCAS junior, represented Texas Republican congressman Ron Paul at a precinct meeting in Clive, Iowa, the night of the caucus. The only representative for Paul at the meeting in a crowded church, Thompson spoke last at the lectern.

In the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses, Thompson worked for Paul's campaign distributing "Slim Jims," or long, thin fliers outlining the candidate's positions on issues such as the economy and foreign policy. On the day of the caucuses, he helped arrange Paul's speech at Des Moines University, the campaign's main event.

"We had no idea how many people were going to show up, especially with most of the students gone," Thompson said. "We drew a packed house, standing room only."

James D'Angelo, vice president of NU's College Republicans, said conservatives on campus support a wide range of Republican candidates, but Iowa's Republican winner, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, has not drawn much interest.

"Most people I've talked to, they hate the guy," D'Angelo, a Communications junior said.

Ron Paul's campaign has drawn the most vocal supporters at NU of any Republican candidate, D'Angelo said. Northwestern Students for Ron Paul, an unfunded NU student group with more than 50 members, is the largest student group for a specific Republican on campus.

Thompson began working with the Paul campaign in August, and founded the group when he returned to campus in September.

Like Thompson, Fink began his involvement with the presidential primaries over the summer. He said the work paid off with the excitement following his candidate's first-place finish.

NU Republicans supporting Paul were less fortunate. Paul placed fifth after Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who finished in a virtual tie for third with McCain.

"No one shoots for fifth or fourth place, but I think 10 percent in Iowa is a solid starting point for his national campaign," Andrew Thompson said.

Thompson said the Internet has changed grassroots campaigning, blurring the line between independent campus activism and official campaign tactics. Campaigning is becoming more personal, more about word-of-mouth than anonymous phone calls, he said.

"People are attracted to Ron Paul for the same reason they're attracted to Obama," Thompson said. "We're looking for something different."

Thompson said he is frustrated by the conventional wisom that his candidate has no chance of winning the presidency.

"Eight to 10 months ago, he was unheard of on the national scene, and now that's all changed," Thompson said. "People say he doesn't have a shot, and I don't see that."

Students' commitment to their candidates did not end with the Iowa results. Fink is back in class, but said he plans to return to campaigning for Obama on Feb. 5: Super Tuesday.
© 2008 Daily Northwestern via U-WIRE