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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Election Season Sets Sampus, Students Abuzz

<ttle for the White House heats up, campus political groups are kicking their own efforts into high gear. With only thirty-nine days left before Election Day, Carls from across the political spectrum are out advocating for the causes and candidates they consider most important.

“We live in a very competitive part of a very competitive state and people can actually make a difference when they vote here,” said Patrick Burke ’14, Director of Political Engagement at the ACT Center.

With much at stake, the surge in activism is hardly unexpected during an election season that has seen fierce battles to win over the dwindling number of those who vote. Most polls suggest that without major changes in the dynamic of the race, the next president will be elected by a margin of less than five percentage points. Democrats and Republicans are doggedly maneuvering for control of Congress as President Obama’s healthcare overhaul and the Bush-era tax cuts hang in the balance.

At the state level, referenda on two constitutional amendments – one banning gay marriage, the other strengthening voter identification laws – have polarized Minnesota, while several hotly contested seats in both legislative chambers are up for grabs as well.

Liberal groups on campus are well-supported and well-deployed. Carleton Democrats, or CarlDems, has devoted most of its efforts to local races for the State House, State Senate, and U.S. Congress. The group is working closely with Carleton chapters of Organizing for America, dedicated to the reelection of President Obama, as well as Minnesotans United for All Families, which is fighting against the anti-gay marriage amendment.

Across the aisle, the Carleton Conservative Union hopes to attract attention to conservative causes on a campus that’s paying more attention to politics and policy than usual.

Two nonpartisan organizations – CarlPAC, which is student-run, and the ACT Center, which is administration-affiliated – are coordinating efforts to maximize student participation in the election.

Registration is the primary focus for CarlPAC, but education comes in a close second. Representatives of the group will be staffing registration tables in Sayles and signing up voters during campus political events, including an anti-amendment rally to be held later this month. The group will also be hosting a “Political Education 101” panel in the Weitz Center in October, according to CarlPAC founder Omar Kaufman ’15.

“The biggest challenge is convincing people that it’s worth their energy to care,” said Kaufman, “but just convincing a bunch of students to sign up [to vote], if they take the time, could make a huge difference.”

The ACT Center shares many of CarlPAC’s goals, but emphasizes behind-the-scenes work and institutional support. This fall, said Burke, it will focus on publicizing political activity and encouraging coordination among campus groups.

“More than anything, it’s about getting the message out about their events,” he continued. “We’ve talked about events they’re planning and how I can help them and just letting them know we’re there to support whatever they want to do.”

Carleton Democrats has already held a number of events this term prioritizing local races while leaving the presidential election and the amendment vote in the hands of groups specifically dedicated to them. State Senate candidate Kevin Dahle headlined its standing-room-only inaugural meeting, and U.S. House candidate Mike Obermuller made an appearance on the 24th. A visit from State House candidate David Bly is also planned.

“Goal number one is to educate Carleton students about local politics, to get them comfortable enough to vote for them,” said Erik Anderson ’13, the group’s president. “It’s hard to find any issues that Republican candidates are going to advocate for that are okay with Carleton students.”

Locally, it is the amendments, not the candidates, that tend to dominate the debate. The Carleton chapter of Minnesotans United for All Families holds twice-weekly “phone-banking” sessions in which volunteers call Minnesota residents and attempt to sway undecided voters against the constitutional prohibition on gay marriage. They also have a campus rally planned for mid-October.

As Luke Hellwig ’15, the organization’s leader, explained, its mission is twofold: first, to encourage Carleton students, who he said are largely opposed to the measure, to get to the polls on Election Day, and second, to convince undecided Minnesotans that the amendment is a bad idea.

“We want to get Carls excited about voting no,” he said, adding, “We also want to make sure that voters know what voting no means and voting yes means and explain to undecided voters what voting no means.”

In the presidential race, on-campus activism is being managed by a chapter of Organizing for America (O.F.A.). In addition to voter registration and twice-weekly phone-banking sessions, according to Carleton O.F.A. Director Emily Ager ’13, it will have a “massive ‘get out the vote’ campaign on Election Day.”

“We’re trying to register everyone off-campus to vote as well as just generally trying to contact everyone on campus to get them to vote,” she said, “and on Election Day, we’ll be dorm-storming, knocking on doors, asking people if they’ve voted yet.”

The group held a “watch party” for the Democratic National Convention and plans to have similar gatherings for the two upcoming presidential debates, the vice presidential debate, and Election Night. It will also bring prominent Democratic speakers to campus, starting with comedian and U.S. Senator Al Franken.

“We’re just trying to hold forums for everyone to be involved with,” Ager explained.

On the other side of the political spectrum is the Carleton Conservative Union (CCU), which has somewhat more limited aims. “We’re not of the opinion that we can convince half the campus to vote for Mitt Romney or Gary Johnson,” admitted group president Travis Nordgaard ’13.

Instead, he explained, the group hopes to promote a campus-wide discussion about the lack of political diversity at Carleton. “People here don’t give second thought to most of the talking points that are issued by ideological figureheads of the Democratic Party. It’s important to question them,” he remarked. “We just want to engage in a debate and question people’s assumptions. That’s what college is about, really.”

In particular, he argued that amidst the battles over Mitt Romney’s tax returns and tenure at Bain Capital, national fiscal issues were not receiving the attention that they should. “This president is spending our generation’s money,” he said, “It’s the largest transfer of wealth in human history, and it’s being transferred from us. That’s what most Americans should care about.”

However they vote, Carls who make their way to the United Church of Christ and cast their ballots could decide the fate of important political questions in Northfield, in Minnesota, and potentially the United States. “People think ‘my vote is so little,’” said Kaufman, “but that’s the political power that you’re given.”

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