Matt Ingoglia: Criticizing the wrong issue

The story of Republican Christine O’Donnell’s candidacy for Senate in Delaware can really only be described with one word: bizarre. From her improbable primary win over longtime incumbent Mike Castle, to her now infamous views on witchcraft and masturbation, the past few months have been anything but politics as usual in the First State. Move over Alaska, because this year’s political circus is just a short drive up I-95.

I suppose it was Delaware’s convenient location that tempted the College Republicans to wade into the insanity last weekend, when they dispatched about 20 of their members to campaign for O’Donnell despite her extremely long odds of victory. This seemingly ordinary trip garnered unexpected infamy when media outlets, including Politico, bashed the group for an e-mail offering members hotel rooms and $50 gift cards in exchange for coming along.

The CRs defended themselves fairly well, but public reaction was still very negative. Was offering a financial incentive to boost attendance really that big of a deal?

Even though I’m a dirty liberal, I have to side with the CRs on this one. In a major election season, this move should not have made such a splash. Campaigns and political organizations recruit friendly outside groups like the CRs to bolster ground operations all the time. While they do not always offer monetary rewards, it is not unheard of. Besides, it is not as if the CRs were using their Student Association allocation funds to pay members for their attendance.

Nor is this practice unique to Republicans. I got paid $80 back in 2007 for knocking on doors in Northern Virginia for local Democratic candidates, and they weren’t even accused of being witches.

While there is nothing inherently unethical about what the CRs did, it does not mean that they should get a free pass for this. I feel the community’s negative reactions were justified, albeit misplaced. The need to pay loyal Republicans to campaign for their own party’s Senate nominee in such a nearby state is a far more damning story that seriously challenges the narrative of this election.

For months we’ve heard the same refrain from Republican talking heads and their Congressional allies. They remind us endlessly that enthusiasm among us young folk has collapsed faster than President Barack Obama’s approval rating. An energized conservative base will demonstrate the popularity of Republican ideals, and it will be Democrats’ faults for not showing up. Even fellow Hatchet columnist Andrew Clark couldn’t resist jumping into the pile, declaring that college students have “lost faith in Obama” since his historic win in 2008.

If first-time Obama voters are so dispirited, how did the College Democrats fill buses to Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia without offering volunteers a dime?

The notion that Republicans are fired up about the vote is laughable. If they were truly excited, the CRs wouldn’t need to offer money to get loyal members to support a firebrand conservative like O’Donnell.

I’m not saying that Democrats have nothing to fear next week. But I’m sick to death of hearing that next week’s elections will demonstrate the inferiority of Democratic ideas and the popularity of Republican ones. The College Republicans’ self-described “desperate” need for people to support a conservative darling blows that assumption wide open.

Don’t expect Andrew or Fox News to admit that, though. It would take a certain kind of witch’s magic to make that happen.

-The writer, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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