By Robb Murray
ST PETER — They’re a curious lot, those young voters.
Ever since Bill Clinton inspired a bunch of them to vote, they’ve been a highly sought-after bunch. And this year is no exception.
Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy seems to have inspired hundreds of thousands of young folk to get politically active. But it’s not just young Democrats engaging, Republicans are doing it, too.
“Are we excited? Absolutely,” said Kaci Wothe, president of Gustavus Adolphus College’s College Democrats. “We all know the importance of this election. It has historic implications. It’s something we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives.”
Carla Shutrop, president of GAC’s College Republicans, agreed.
“The mood among the College Republicans is one of hope right now,” Shutrop said. “Regardless of polls having Obama ahead, we are optimistic as they have been tightening in the past few weeks.”
Both groups at Gustavus and the College Democrats at Minnesota State University say their ranks are swollen in recent weeks, and that it works that way every year a big election approaches.
“Membership in the College Democrats has increased steadily since the beginning of the year, and in the past two weeks many students have signed up to help with our Get Out the Vote efforts,” said Shannon Pierce, president of MSU’s College Democrats. “It’s something that we hope we can sustain even during off election years.”
College Republican numbers have grown, Shutrop said, as interest has piqued in the presidential and senatorial races.
Wothe said her group has about 30 active members, but that close to 80 have signed up to volunteer between now and Tuesday.
College Democrats have been visiting every room in every residence hall reminding students about Election Day and helping them get registered to vote.
Both groups have actually been registering students to vote. They provide the forms, wait while students fill them out, and then they turn the forms in at the Nicollet County Courthouse.
Hundreds of Gustavus students have entered the local voting ranks because of the work of College Republicans and Democrats.
On the Democrat side, the excitement has meant more satellite offices both for the Obama campaign, and for state Democrats.
Wothe, for example, has been a paid satellite representative of the Minnesota Young DFL. She works on behalf of all Democratic candidates, including Obama, Al Franken, Tim Walz and Terry Morrow.
Shutrop said that, across the board, students are more aware of what’s going on politically. Thanks for that, she said, can at least in part be given to the media. The historic nature of the election has been hard to ignore.
“It is great that more people our age are getting involved because it is more likely that they will continue to stay involved or at least continue to exercise their right to vote,” she said.
She said the group has done phone calling and door knocking on behalf of all Republican candidates for which students could vote.
She also said, however, that the seemingly endless stream of political ads — many of which are negative — is taking a toll.
“People are excited this year, but it can be seen on campus just as it can be seen anywhere else that people are getting tired and just want it to be over,” she said. “There has been so much negative campaigning this year that people are just getting sick of it.”
Both groups say that, despite their obvious differences, they’ve worked together on several goals. Both groups have registered voters. They jointly sponsored — along with GAC TV and the Gustavian Weekly — an on-campus debate between Morrow and his Republican opponent, Mike Bidwell.
“The goal nationally is for both parties to work across the aisle,” Wothe said.
Over at MSU, Pierce said they’ve been so busy trying to communicate with student voters that they haven’t had much chance to cooperate with their campus rivals.
“The College Republicans have been tabling alongside us many days which is good because students should get information about all candidates from both parties and make a decision about who best represents their ideals,” Pierce said.
Getting them to the polls, though, is where it all starts. And both groups predict a large turnout Election Day.
“Voting has become more and more important to our generation as we are going to be inheriting all the problems that have been created — Medicare, Social Security, national debt — and as we have grown up we have not seen our elected officials take on these problems as we would like them to,” Shutrop said. “It becomes more important as the issues become more daunting, and we would like to see someone take them on before we have to face them with our families.”
Added Pierce, “This year students seem very eager to vote. They realize that this is an important election, especially for our generation and they really want to get out and have their voice heard. We had great turnout in our voter registration drives. We registered so many students and community members and are very proud of our efforts.”