October/November 2008

Article by Ramona du Houx

All across America college students are getting involved in this historic election campaign in record numbers. The exact figure is not known, but think about who’s calling you concerning the election, who’s putting up signs — who’s getting out the vote?

The College Democrats of America (CDA) held their convention in Denver, Colorado, in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention, and over 700 student delegates from 48 states. Each delegate represents a network of students at their respective college that they are organizing.

Maine had seven delegates and three members of the CDA. Frank Chi, Clark Gascoigne, and Alex Cornell du Houx, were CDA executive board members as well as graduates of Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

“In a 2006 race we helped a Democratic candidate win by 86 votes; we turned up voter turnout by 800 percent from the previous election and drove Joe Cortney to victory,” said Clark Gascoigne, CDA’s communications director. “The youth vote has an increasingly large impact every year. From 2003 to 2008, in every election cycle the youth vote has increased dramatically over the last eight years. In 2006 we had two million more youth enrolled than in 2002. In 2008 the youth vote in the 2008 primaries was 103 percent higher than it was in 2004. The youth vote has become the base vote of the Democratic Party. College campuses vote overwhelmingly democratic and turning out the youth vote is a major component of the Democratic field plan.”

Frank Chi graduated from Bowdoin after working successfully on Governor Baldacci’s reelection campaign. His experiences led him to secure a job working on the advertisements for major campaigns around the country. Living his dream of working in the political field in Washington, DC, he believes students will move the county forward. “Students will make the difference, especially in a close election where it’s all about turnout. This is our opportunity, our time,” said Chi.

Former presidential aid Terry McAuliffe was totally in agreement about the importance students will have in this election. “I think college Democrats will have an impact this time more than ever before. Every four years, more college Democrats get involved. They understand the problems the nation is facing. They are faced with high-interest student loans, and the economy and our job markets are in horrible shape. Most of our troops in Iraq are young. These issues have a direct effect on their lives,” said McAuliffe, former DNC chair and President Clinton advisor. “People need change, and the youth will bring it about, because they want to move the country in a new direction. This will be a banner year for young people. Obama is already making change.”

New leaders represent new ways of accomplishing tasks.

“I think Obama’s campaign is about the issues and about change. It’s also about bringing in a new generation of leaders. We have to open the doors to young people to be a part of leadership, in Washington, Augusta, and locally. We need to encourage their participation. This election is getting them involved like never before,” said Governor Baldacci.

“I’ve been interested in getting involved for a long time, but we didn’t have anything at my high school. As a freshman at Bowdoin, I joined CDA’s Bowdoin chapter, and I’ll be communications director for next year,” said Caitlin Callahan, who attended her first national convention in Denver. “The convention has been incredible; it was electric at the Pepsi Center. The youth vote will be critical this year, especially with our close Senate race in Maine. It’s two to one, Democrat youths to Republicans, so it’s critical we get out. This is the time to get involved, there is so much excitement.”

During the CDA convention, famous presenters led panel discussions and gave speeches, from Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, to CNN reporters, to Professor/author Michael Eric Dyson.

“Barack Obama has energized these young people in an unprecedented fashion. They understand that their grassroots activism can lead to organization principles that can change the prospect of American Democracy,” said Dyson. “Their vote is necessary because of their huge numbers, their way of organizing on the Internet, the cyber-organization and activism that they display, as well as the capacity to reenergize older activists who have lost the spark — and they give them a renewed sense of commitment to the democratic process.”

In September the Maine Democratic Party’s (MDP) Victory 2008 Coordinated Campaign said it hit a one-million-call mark. In a state of 1.3 million, that’s impressive.

More than 4,000 volunteers have participated in the series of call nights, talking to Mainers about their candidate preferences for the presidency, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and Maine Legislature. Due to Governor Howard Dean’s field organization’s 50-state strategy, the MDP has 42 paid organizers and 10 support staff, the largest in Maine’s history, with 32 staffed field offices, representing every county. And the Obama campaign has swarmed into the state.

“Obama is organized in every town and every ward in the state,” said Colby College government professor Sandy Maisel. “The Democratic Party is better organized in Maine than I have ever seen it before, and I think that it is true across the country. Obama is getting students involved.”

Maine’s U.S. Congressman Tom Allen is running a close race for the Senate against Susan Collins. The student vote would help him in two ways. College campuses tend to vote overwhelmingly Democrat, so the more students CDA members register to vote, the more it gives Democratic candidates an advantage. Secondly, many students see the connection that Barack Obama, once elected, will need a majority in the US Senate and House in order to make change happen. Young voters are more inclined to vote for the “big picture” party-line ticket.

“In Maine we have one of the closest Senate races in the country. It’s absolutely integral to the overall Democratic strategy to get college students out to vote. All across the state we are registering college students on campuses at convenient locations. Every campus is hard at work getting as many students as possible enrolled. We’re also spreading the effort off campus. Recently we had a big group of around 80 students join up in Lewiston for canvassing; in total, we knocked on some 4,700 doors and reached over 1,000 people. We’re also having debate parties and phone banking,” said Christopher J. Van Alstyne, president, Maine College Democrats. “It’s an exciting time with Barack Obama and his message about change; it really is something we can believe in. We’ve had eight years of President Bush’s failed policies; we have to figure out Iraq and Afghanistan; the economy is dramatically weakening. We have to have real leadership in the economy. There is so much energy about the Obama campaign, we’re proud to be a part of it.”

House Majority Leader Rep. Hannah Pingree was one of the youngest legislators in the state of Maine. Now she is poised to become Speaker of the House of Representatives. “Starting with the caucuses, young people are more energized than they have ever been in Maine,” said Pingree. “A number of young delegates are here [in Denver] from all across the states. There are a lot of reasons why young people are getting involved and engaged. First of all, they are really excited about Obama. This is poised to be an election where young people are going to volunteer in record numbers, and in Maine they are running for offices.”

The organizing operational logistics of a campaign have also changed to suit a new generation of student leaders and organizers. “The traditional political rallies, teas, and dinners are not the way campaigns are being run today; the web-casting, text messaging — the length and breath of what’s taking place behind the scenes, no one knows,” said Baldacci. “It’s a generational shift; Obama’s got a lot of responsibility upon his shoulders. He’s bringing on a new generation and a new way of doing things. I like his style of working with everyone. Regardless of what party, the country and the world are in such a state of need, people have to work together. I don’t think people like partisanship; I think they want their politicians to work together. They’ll have their differences, but at the end of the day you’re working for the same people.”

The numbers from the Secretary of State’s Office in June indicates that for every two new Democrats since November 2006 the Republicans were losing an enrolled voter. For registered Democrats, numbers increased from 309,525 to 319,690 by June. Over the same time, registered Republicans decreased from 279,641 to 273,686.

By September 30th, absentee ballot requests received by the City of Portland’s City Clerk’s Office have increased 30 percent when compared to this time during the last presidential election. The city clerk is predicting a record 80 percent turnout of registered voters this year with 40 percent voting absentee.

If you are a student and want to get involved, contact Van Alstyne at: cjvanals@colby.edu, find your Obama representative on campus or contact the MDP.