With the 2004 presidential primary elections set to begin in January, GW students are beginning to organize groups in support of the Democratic and Republican candidates.
The only two official democratic campaign groups are GW Students for Clark and Dean 2004, although the College Republicans are actively throwing their support behind President George W. Bush.
GW Students for Clark held its first meeting last week in Strong Hall, less than a week after Gen. Wesley Clark announced his candidacy. More than 40 students attended the Strong Hall meeting, a clear indicator of his popularity on campus.
Clark, a Democrat, is a former army general who led the U.S. military efforts in Kosovo, and he has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq.
The organization, headed by junior Chad Reed and senior Lindsay Fincher is looking to hold a fundraiser in the D.C. area in the next few weeks. They said the group anticipates a campaign trip to early primary states later this year.
“(Clark is) the first politician I’ve seen in a long time that has so much leadership and integrity, as opposed to the current administration and even Clinton’s administration,” Reed said.
Clark supporters said Democratic candidates’ strategies changed from past years’.
“People of all parties at our age feel alienated by the Bush administration … (Clark’s campaign) shows that democracy can flourish anywhere,” sophomore Jonathan Ostrower said. “We’re seeing the Internet as a valuable tool for political mobilization, particularly as a medium where any campaign can flourish, whether it be Dean or the rapid rise of the Clark campaign.”
Democratic candidate Howard Dean also has a strong following on campus under the label Dean 2004. Senior Ari Mittleman founded the group in February when Dean was struggling in national polls.
Dean, a doctor and former governor of Vermont, has risen to become one of the top-tier candidates, surpassing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in recent New Hampshire polls. He pulls in a unique base of voters with his anti-war stance and platform of civil unions for homosexual couples.
Dean 2004 has recruited more than 100 members in the past month, and organizers said they hope to gain more as the year progresses. The group is part of a massive grassroots student group in support of Dean known as Generation Dean.
“He’s the only candidate who’s reaching out to students and devoting his time to listening to students, and I think, most importantly, he’s letting students know that their voices matter,” Mittleman said. “He’s the father of two kids our age, which says a lot about his familiarity with our generation.”
Two weeks ago, the group traveled to a campaign rally at the University of Maryland to see Dean, affectionately dubbed “the governor” by many of his ardent supporters.
“On Monday night (the Dean campaign) is having the most people on a conference call ever to break the world record. Nationwide, we’re hoping for tens of thousands on the call. We have the Marvin Center Ballroom reserved for the event,” Mittleman said. “He actually gives a damn about people our age.”
College Republicans said they have a campaign for Bush in the works.
“I think that there’s a lot more college people that support Republicans than are generally thought of,” said junior Lee Roupas, GWCR chair. “He’s done a lot for the education issue, something that all college students care about.”
However, unlike the Democratic candidates, the Republican party has deferred all youth recruitment responsibilities to the National College Republicans, since there is only one republican candidate on the bill.
“We talk about there being a lot of youth for Dean and Clark, but we do a lot better than the Democrats at youth mobilization. People make a big deal about their small contributions, but Bush has had more small contributions than any Democratic candidate,” Roupas said.
Members of all the groups said they will continue to organize this fall in anticipation of a big push during the primary season. The District is set to hold the nation’s first Democratic primary this year on Jan. 13.
* 59% of 18-to-24 year-olds in
college will “definitely be voting” in the 2004 election
* 34% of college students would vote for President Bush
* 32% said they would vote for the Democratic nominee
* 8% would vote for an independent
* 29% of college students are Democrats
Source: “Campus Kids: The New Swing Voter,” Harvard University Institute of Politics