U. Florida Students Campaign Despite Florida's Weakened Primaries

This story was written by Drew Harwell, Independent Florida Alligator
With the Florida primaries only a few weeks away, volunteer campaigners across campus have been working hard to popularize their favorite presidential candidate.

The question is, why?

Florida legislators and national party leaders have butted heads over the Jan. 29 primaries' loss of national influence and a pledge made by Democratic candidates to suspend their campaigning across the state.

Yet students around campus have still made it a priority to hold signs, raise money and get people to the polls - though it remains to be seen how much impact the votes will have.

Florida's demotion problems first began when the state scheduled its primary earlier than planned without seeking permission from the two parties.

The Democratic National Committee reprimanded the state for its decision and voted in August to strip the state of all its delegates, making the Florida primary technically useless later in the year when nominees are selected.

The Republican National Committee also chose to punish the state by depriving Florida of half its delegates, leaving the state with 57 -- one less than Missouri, which has a third of Florida's population.

For the Democratic candidates, this punishment has given Florida the shroud of a leper's colony. According to the New York Times, candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards spoke at only 20 events combined across the entire state before signing a pledge, like all Democratic candidates did, to not campaign again in the state before the primary.

However, the state still holds some power for the Republican hopefuls. Candidates like Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have made numerous trips to Orlando, Coral Gables and the state's West coast.

For some of the potential presidential nominees, Florida's weakened impact has shaken up campaign plans. But for some lower-level supporters, such as students around campus, the punishment has served only as motivation.

Kristen Misiak, a UF senior in biochemistry and English and member of UF Students for Barack Obama, said the primary at the end of the month remains as important as it ever was.

"We won't be getting delegates, but our primary runs a week before 22 other states," she said, referring to the nationwide primaries on "Super Tuesday" that will decide a little over half of the nation's Democratic delegates. "It matters as far as momentum."

Dave Chauncey, a UF political science sophomore who helped start Gators for Mike Huckabee, agreed.

"Politics, especially the primary season, is all about momentum," he said. "The way Florida goes may really determine the way the country goes."

Anthony Aspesi, a UF sophomore in biology and political science who supports Republican candidate John McCain, said, "Since we [Florida] are early, it's going to help set the tone for the rest of the states on February 5. People are still going to see the results of who wins and who gets the support."

"I'd be a little upset, though," he added, "if I was a Democrat."

It's not just delegates that Florida Democrats are missing out on. Because of the Democratic candidates' pledge to stop campaigning in Florida, some UF political support groups have found themselves low on resources.

Danny Beaulieu, the membership coordinator of UF Students for Barack Obama and a UF junior in political science and philosophy, said his group has been paying for stickers, buttons and other promotional material without any money from Obama's headquarters.

Though the group is now raising funds by selling T-shirts and drink koozies, Beaulieu estimated his group was "still at least a few hundred dollars in the red."

Kathleen Shea, the president of Gators for Hillary and junior in classical studies, also said her group has had trouble putting together enough cash for its campaign.

"Right now we can't really give out materials," she said. "We're planning fundraiser events for later this spring just to pay for fliers."

On the other side of the race, students supporting Republican candidates have also found themselves rich in support but poor in funds.

Bryan Griffin, a UF sophomore in classics and biology who serves as the campus representative for Thompson's nationwide campaign, attested that his group hasn't received much money from the candidate's headquarters but has still organized promotional material, fundraising dinners and debate-watching parties.

"It doesn't really discourage us," he said.

Others, like David Polakoff, a UF junior in elementary education and member of Gators for Ron Paul, have found the Democrats' primary problem to be a surprising help.

"The fact that we [Republicans] still have half and the Democrats have nothing has worked to our advantage," Polakoff said.
© 2008 Independent Florida Alligator via U-WIRE