Northwestern increases political action ahead of presidential election


Sophie Mann/Daily Senior Staffer

Northwestern students follow the first Democratic primary debate during a viewing party at Technological Institute hosted by Wild for Bernie, the NU support group for candidate Bernie Sanders. The viewing party was one of many election-related events to come from student groups and support various candidates for the 2016 election.

Emily Chin and David Fishman

More than 50 Northwestern students came together Tuesday in a show of bipartisanship to watch the first Democratic debate air live on CNN.

Students from both College Democrats and College Republicans convened in Fisk Hall to snack and discuss politics. The debate comes as the two groups are gearing up for the 2016 presidential election with a slew of campaign-centered programming slated for the quarter.

The groups — neither of which endorses a specific candidate — serve as an avenue for students to get more involved in campaigns through trips to national campaign events and events on campus.

Republicans discuss options

“I don’t see College Republicans as a campaigning group,” said Will Pritzker, College Republicans’ secretary of events. “We encourage people to do it on their own initiative, but that’s never been our sole purpose. It’s bringing conservative speakers where people can debate from a conservative standpoint.”

At a liberal school like NU, Pritzker said it’s difficult to find conservative-minded thinkers. Additionally, he said the fact that there are so many Republican candidates makes it harder for a group of students to put their support behind one candidate.

At one of the group’s meetings, students were polled on which candidates they support. With more than 20 students in the room, six candidates were represented in the results, with a majority supporting Marco Rubio.

The number of GOP candidates running for president have made the field wide open, said Pritzker, a Weinberg junior.

“It’s hard when you have 15 plus candidates, but it makes it interesting,” he said. “It’s a fun conversation.”

Several presidential campaigns, including those for Rubio and John Kasich, have already reached out to College Republicans, asking for support from the university.

SESP sophomore Chris Dungey leads the Rubio campaign at NU. He was appointed as the NU chairman for Rubio’s campaign in Illinois after working in politics this summer.

Dungey has 12 people on his team. Currently, they are informally gauging interest on campus and attending College Republicans meetings, he said. Later on in the campaign, they will be petitioning.

“It’s like grassroots campaigning,” he said. “It’s just the student organization, there are no staff members.”

Democrats campaign for candidates

Some students in College Democrats have formed groups to campaign for the two leading candidates: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

As of Monday evening, more than 50 students had joined the email list for Wild for Bernie, a political group supporting Sanders that formed in late April. As of Tuesday evening, more than 350 students had liked the Wild for Bernie Facebook page.

“Overall Bernie’s largest pull is young college students or young adults because everyone is passionate about education and healthcare and everything he stands for,” said Communication sophomore Jesus Campos, who helped kick-off Wild for Bernie. “It’s great that we have more people knowing who Bernie is.”

Wild for Bernie is primarily active through social media, where it began as just a Facebook page. Their main goal is to spread word about what Sanders is doing through various media channels, Campos said.

Students for Hillary, a group that formed April 2015 to support Clinton’s campaign, has also been gaining traction. As of Monday afternoon, more than 115 people had signed up for the group’s email list.

“Hillary Clinton can get the job done from day one, she doesn’t need training wheels,” said Weinberg senior Kevin Cheng, co-president of Students for Hillary. “She’s been in the tough situations already as Secretary of State.”

The group is planning campaigning trips to Iowa and speech-viewing events on campus to pique student interest, he said.

The debates

For some students, Tuesday’s viewing party was the first time they were introduced to less prominent candidates like Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb.

“O’Malley, dark horse, is looking really good,” said Sydney Selix, SESP junior and vice president of programming for College Democrats. “Obviously he’s going to be irrelevant and it’s going to come down to Bernie and Hillary, but it’s good to see a strong bunch of candidates.”

Weinberg junior Aaron Gordon, a libertarian, did not agree with many of the candidates’ positions, but enjoyed watching the debate nonetheless.

“Hillary and Bernie were hogging the airtime,” he said. “I have to admit, I don’t think Bernie should be president, but I do like watching him. He doesn’t feel scripted or rehearsed like Hillary.”

Nationally, the two leading Democrats, Clinton and Sanders, hold 43 percent and 25 percent respectively in the polls, according to RealClearPolitics.

The first two Republican debates earlier this year were notably larger, with twice as many candidates onstage than their Democratic equivalent. Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio are leading the latest polls, according to RealClearPolitics.

Republican candidates will convene for their third debate Oct. 28.

Given the timeliness of the debates, College Democrats and College Republicans have both seen an increased attendance at meetings.

“It’s definitely affecting us a great deal,” said Weinberg senior Harrison Flagler, the president of College Republicans. “We usually have a drop after the second meeting, but that didn’t happen this year. There were some new faces.”

In addition to the meetings, the two political groups are hosting speakers and organizing events to increase participation. College Democrats announced Tuesday that three former top aides to President Barack Obama would be speaking at NU on Nov. 6. College Republicans will also be hosting their fall speaker on Nov. 19, but have yet to announce the name.

“We’re just trying to do as much as we can,” Cheng said. “Students played a huge role in Obama’s two elections.”

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