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Utah State Students Deeply Involved in U.S. Presidential Campaign
When the school year began, USU's College Republicans had two members — Jaron Janson and his old roommate. Now, six months later, the group has more than 200 students on its e-mail list.
This sort of trend has been seen across the country as presidential candidates have actively pursued the youth vote. Student groups at USU have also seen an increase in interest and involvement.
The College Republicans haven't endorsed a candidate but Janson, chair of the student group, said most of the members were supporting Mitt Romney. Now that he has dropped out of the race and Sen. John McCain is the likely nominee for the Republican Party, Janson said he isn't satisfied with any of the candidates.
"This is definitely going to be a bad year for us," he said.
Janson said some members were supporting other candidates like Sen. Fred Thompson but once those candidates left the race, those students backed Romney.
"We felt he was best," he said. "He was the most conservative of the group."
Janson said most of the members are strongly against McCain, believing he is "just far too left.
"I'm scared that he's dragging the party to a much more liberal direction. On social issues, big government, he's right there with Democrats," he said. "Romney was more in the middle ground."
Because of his strong dislike of McCain, Sen. Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Barack Obama, Janson said he doesn't know what he is going to do. At one point, Janson said he wasn't going to vote at all if McCain were the nominee. Now, however, he said he probably won't follow through with his threat.
"It really kind of makes us disappointed and less likely to go out and vote. I don't think I would rather see Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in office than McCain," he said. "It's a real dilemma. That's a perfect way to describe it."
As this election's candidates have generated higher turnout, they have been just as polarizing. While the College Democrats have 200-300 students on their e-mail list, Aubrey Hill, the group's president, said the students in her group aren't facing the same problem as the Republicans. While she said the group is evenly split between Clinton and Obama, all the members agree anyone would be better than McCain.
"There's no real consensus but whichever one gets it is better than McCain," Hill said. "That's the only real consensus we have at this point."
She said the differences in candidate preference make for spirited debate and the race could really go either way for the Democrats at this point.
"There is still quite a bit of wiggle room," she said.
Hill and her fellow Democrats have something else to worry about though — superdelegates.
Hill said she personally believes the race will be decided by Ohio and Texas, which had primaries March 4. She does believe, however, that superdelegates could prove to be a major problem for the Democratic Party.
"It's a really interesting situation. They have the potential to make a huge impact in the Democratic race. Historically, it hasn't significantly changed the outcome. This race they could make a huge difference."
During the school year, there have been a few student groups formed to support specific candidates, one of which is Utah State University for Obama
. Obama has proven to be a serious contender, winning 23 states to Clinton's 10, according to CNN's Election Center
Melinda Thatcher, campus coordinator of the student group, said she thinks Obama has a very good chance of winning the nomination and the presidency.
"I think it looks like with more time and more focus on who Obama is and what he believes in, people are getting more and more on board with him. The longer this goes, the better it is for him," Thatcher said. "Obama has an edge."
Thatcher, who leads a group of 50-60 students, said the nominating process could continue to the convention. She said she thinks Obama will win whether it comes to superdelegates or not. However, she said "you never want to count the Clintons out."
Thatcher said she does not agree with Clinton's strategies and thinks her behavior is a sign that her campaign is in trouble.
"I think she is desperate, to be going from the woman who was inevitably going to be getting it to the underdog, basically. She is pulling out everything she can. This is her backed into a corner getting out of it," Thatcher said.
The tension between the two parties leaves some students feeling they have to choose between the lesser of two evils. Even though Janson does not support Obama, he said he thinks it would be interesting to see what he could do as president.
He said, "Part of me almost wants to see what Barack Obama would do in office because I think he will be very ineffective but I am also kind of scared."
Unlike the predicament the College Republicans face, Thatcher said she doesn't think Obama supporters will have a hard time voting for Clinton if she is the nominee because Republicans are out of touch with people's needs. She also said a lot of people she has spoken with won't vote for McCain because of the way he treated Romney during the campaign.
She said, "I know more Mormons and more Utahns that support Obama because of how McCain treated Romney. Isn't that crazy?"
Aside from growing interest from students, registered voters in Cache Valley are also becoming more active. Jill Zollinger, Cache County clerk, said in the 2000 presidential primary, 8 percent of voters participated. In the 2008 presidential primaries, 25 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.
USU political science professor Michael Lyons said despite the increasing trend in numbers seen across the country, he believes it is more important for people, especially students, just to be aware than to vote.
He said, "I think it is very important for students to be politically engaged and informed for their own benefit. In our society there is this growing division between an informed minority — I don't mean politically informed but world events, understanding the world economy — and the two-thirds that know very little about the world."
Lyons said, "Politics is integral. You can't understand the world without understanding politics. Do you want to jump off or get on board? Who wants to be clueless?"
Arie Kirk has been actively working for the Barack Obama presidential campaign and is the media coordinator for Utah State University for Obama.