This fall, more than 400 students in the College Democrats and College Republicans are scheduled to become foot soldiers for their respective candidates in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.
The Nov. 8 governor election between Virginia’s Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy Kaine and the state’s former attorney general, Republican Jerry Kilgore, has drawn GW students to the frontlines of the each campaign as students man phone banks and make door-to-door visits in an effort to mobilize Virginia voters.
“Campaigning in state elections is important,” said senior Jeff Holth, president of GW’s College Republicans. “The grassroots politics make the difference.”
The College Republicans will travel to Virginia every Saturday in the month leading up to Election Day, Holth said. In a coordinated effort with the Republican National Committee, GW’s Republican supporters will join students from Georgetown University and American University to help get the word out on Kilgore’s conservative platform.
Senior Stacey Garfinkle, president of GW’s College Democrats, said her group will also visit Virginia every weekend to meet with potential voters to support Kaine and other democratic campaigns.
“(Virginia’s) entire House of Delegates is up for election,” Garfinkle said. “It’s important because there is nothing going on in D.C. or in Maryland, but everything is at stake in Virginia so it’s important to get democrats in at every (political) level possible.”
Local, state and federal elections typically draw more students to two of the largest student organizations on campus. Last year, the College Democrats sent 150 students to Florida to campaign for 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry. Students said their involvement in campaigns helps them exercise their duties as American citizens.
“I joined the College Democrats because I find that progress is evident in the political involvement of today’s youth,” said freshman Cielo Villasenor said.
“I believe in my viewpoints strongly, and it gives me the opportunity to do something about them,” said freshman Tim Cook, a member of the College Republicans.
Unlike most other states’ governing documents, Virginia’s constitution allows its governor to serve one term in office. The state’s sitting governor, Mark R. Warner, is a GW alumnus who may run for the Democratic presidential candidacy in 2008. Warner, who enjoys an around 70 percent job-approval rating, has thrown his support behind Kaine, who is appealing to voters through his alliance with the governor. Kilgore, who opposes the tax increases of the Warner administration, wants to reinstate Republican leadership in the traditionally red state.
Despite their differences, both parties are embracing help from their student supporters, who have volunteered the majority of their time in nearby northern Virginia communities.
“In every campaign, your young supporters are going to be a big part of the enthusiasm of the campaign,” said Kevin Griffis, spokesman for the Democrats’ Virginia Victory 2005 campaign. “If you don’t have a strong College Democrat group, it makes it more difficult to take the candidate’s message to college students.”
Members of both the College Democrats and College Republicans said they are also looking forward to working on November’s New Jersey governor race in addition to helping Virginia elect its new governor. Virginia and New Jersey are the only states facing major elections this year.
“This is without a doubt the most political campus in the country and there are a lot of young idealistic kids who want to make a difference in politics,” said Joshua Greenstein, political affairs director of the College Democrats.
Holth said, “It’s about getting out and campaigning and protesting and getting on the street.”