Students form groups to support 2008 candidates

While the 2008 U.S. presidential election is more than a year away, some students are already actively mobilizing their peers to support candidates.

Three groups supporting Democratic candidates have already been formed including Students for Hillary, Students for Barack Obama and Students for John Edwards. Members of the College Republicans said they did not know of any GOP-supporting organizations.

Members organize grassroots training sessions, speeches, debate-watch parties and help students volunteer with the various campaigns.

Mobilizing the youth vote early in the election season could be critical for candidates as it is one of the least-likely populations to vote in elections. Young people ages 18 to 24 had the lowest voting and registration rates in the 2004 presidential election, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Despite the low rate, youth voting increased by 11 percent from 2000 to 2004, according to the bureau.

Robert Russo, a sophomore and president of the GW Students for Hillary group, said he thinks the organization benefits from its prime location in D.C. The group already has about 75 members on the social networking Web site Facebook.com.

“I think we have an advantage in being at GW, (as Clinton’s) national headquarters will be over in Virginia. A lot of members will have an opportunity to volunteer at her national headquarters,” Russo said. “We really want this group to be an advocate for Hillary Clinton, to spread her vision about her plans for America.”

“I think that we really are a vital part of the national campaign,” Russo said. “Students are energized, we’re active, we’re willing to put in long hours – we’re passionate.”

Omar Bengali, a senior and campus director for Students for John Edwards, also stressed the importance of student involvement.

“We expect to have a huge impact, and the reason that I say that is that students today, at least at GW, are very active. They are people that actually know what’s going on nationally (and) internationally,” Bengali said.

Both the GW Students for John Edwards and Students for Barack Obama groups have affiliations with national organizations. The national Students for Barack Obama group transformed from a small Facebook group started in July 2006 by a student at Bowdoin College, into a national organization with more than 60,000 members in campus chapters across the country.

Henry Kraemer, media liaison for the national Obama group, said that the role of the national organization is to support the local chapters, like those in Foggy Bottom.

“These campaigns are run so students can have an impact, and the impact is done through the grassroots, through students talking to other students, getting people to write letters, go out and vote,” Kraemer said. “The national organization is there largely for the chapters; the chapters are where it goes on.”

On the Republican side, Peter Glessing, College Republicans director of public relations, said he does not know of any GW chapters connected to presidential campaigns groups. However, Glessing said there are regional D.C. groups that GW students are actively participating in. These groups include D.C. Students for Mitt Romney and Students for Sam Brownback.

“It’s grassroots activism,” said Glessing, a junior. “That’s how you win the nomination and get energized.”

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