MSU students check out the Democrats
By Brian Charlton
Special to CNN
Student correspondent Brian Charlton stands in front of a statue of a Spartan known as "Sparty" on Michigan State's campus.
Editor's note: Campus Vibe is a weekly feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Brian Charlton, political reporter at The State News, the Michigan State University student newspaper. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or Michigan State University.
EAST LANSING, Michigan (CNN) -- Although the 2004 presidential election is a year away, Michigan State University sophomore Steve Purchase has been watching the candidates for months.
That's why Purchase made sure he went to the October 26 Democratic debate in Detroit. Afterward, Purchase hustled over to a post-debate party at the city's Town Pump Tavern, where retired Gen. Wesley Clark and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean dropped by to rub elbows with the college crowd for a few minutes.
Purchase, who is supporting Dean, said he is helping to reach more students by attending rallies, parades and knocking on dorm room doors to talk to students.
"Being able to see the debate was cool," Purchase said. "But what is more valuable is the things we're doing up at MSU. 'Cause we're definitely making a difference on campus and in the community. That's what really matters."
Party place, political point
Many Detroit restaurants and bars were packed with college students and young professionals watching the action at the Fox Theatre as the nine Democratic presidential hopefuls held their fifth nationally televised debate.
University of Michigan senior Kristen Stoner followed the proceedings from a crowded Detroit bar. She said she is most interested in how each candidate plans to boost the economy.
"It seems like all of my friends that are graduating are getting waitress jobs," Stoner said. "That makes a huge difference and makes us want to follow politics."
The outlook after graduation is grim for Stoner and other students as they prepare to enter an unstable job market with big debts from student loans to pay -- especially with tuition costs rising.
Many young voters that night said they are looking to the 2004 presidential election for leadership in guiding them out of a financial mess.
Carrying 17 electoral votes, Michigan will be the first major industrial swing state to endorse a Democratic nominee for president after its Democratic Caucus on February 7, according to Bill Ballenger, publisher of the Lansing-based newsletter Inside Michigan Politics.
"It's very important who wins Michigan," Ballenger said.
On the night of the Democratic debate, college-age Republicans gathered outside the Fox Theatre to promote President Bush.
Some young Republicans watched the event next door at the Hockey Town Cafe.
Already organizing on a grass-roots level, the Michigan Federation of College Republicans registered 1,000 new members in September, including 300 registered by the MSU College Republicans, said Tim Phelps, political director of the statewide organization. The newly enlisted bring the number of MSU students in the group to 700.
"In this election, we'll play a pretty significant role," said Phelps, an MSU sophomore on the Bush-Cheney Michigan steering committee.
New methods, new voters
To stir participation among young voters, the state's Democratic Party will allow Internet voting in the party's Democratic Caucus for the first time, according to Mark Brewer, Michigan Democratic Party executive chairman.
Internet voting, combined with visits from party leaders to each of the state's 15 public university campuses, will boost student interest in the election, Brewer said.
About 300 students are members of the MSU College Democrats, which includes groups for Dean, Clark and U.S. Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and John Kerry of Massachusetts.
The 500-member strong University of Michigan Democrats hosted a forum with a student from each campaign detailing his or her candidate's stance on the issues.
"We're seeing a lot more energy on campuses," Brewer said. "Students are more energetic about politics as more issues are affecting them."