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Inside Politics

UPenn students have electoral power

By Spencer Willig
Special to CNN

Student reporter Spencer Willig flashes his press pass in front of a statue of UPenn's founder, Benjamin Franklin.

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• See more work by Spencer Willig and his colleagues online at The Daily Pennsylvanian external link

Editor's note: Campus Vibe is a feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Spencer Willig, student reporter at The Daily Pennsylvanian, the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the University of Pennsylvania.

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Being at Penn next year might make students' votes more meaningful -- statistically and symbolically.

One of the country's few truly unpredictable swing states, Pennsylvania is more or less evenly split between its Democratic cities and staunchly Republican center. So every vote counts.

Though the state's declining population lost two of its votes in the Electoral College -- it will only have 21 in the coming election -- Pennsylvania packs enough of a punch to make or break a presidential campaign.

In fact, since 1950, only two Republicans have made it to the White House without winning Pennsylvania -- Richard Nixon in 1968 and George W. Bush.

In 2000, Vice President Al Gore edged out Texas Gov. George W. Bush for the state's 23 electoral votes, taking 51 percent of the vote in the state to Bush's 47 percent. Though Bush prevailed on the national level, four years later Republicans have their sights set on taking the Keystone State.

"New York is a lost cause," said Stephanie Steward, vice chair of the Penn College Republicans. "If you're a Republican at Penn and you come from New York, you should register here. I'm from Oregon, we have seven electoral votes. I'm registering here."

Her Democratic counterparts at Penn are marshaling their forces as well.

"Unless you live in a Michigan or a Florida, your vote is simply more important here," said Rich Eisenberg, the president of Penn's College Democrats. "Also, when students vote, you get politicians thinking about [students] differently. When you vote here, you're recognized... as a Penn student voting."

Penn College Democrats campus outreach coordinator Jared Katseff, originally from New Jersey, said that the choice to register in Pennsylvania was an easy one for him to make. "I'm registering in Pennsylvania, thank you very much -- my vote might actually make a difference here," Katseff said.

Republican strategy

Analysts believe that Republican time and money will be best spent in Philadelphia's suburbs, which, according to Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Millersville University in central Pennsylvania, "the Republicans need to win in order to carry the state's electoral votes."

Though Steward agreed that Republicans should, "if you want a return on investment... go to the suburbs, go to the western part of the state," David Copley, chairman of the Pennsylvania Federation of College Republicans, said that no portion of the state -- or Penn's campus -- was going to be sacrificed.

"I can tell you, I intend to knock on every door on this campus and register every Republican voter," said the junior, who attends Wharton, Penn's business school. "We're going to make sure every Republican gets to the polls, because that's what it's going to take to win Pennsylvania."

Mayoral mirror

For students eager to do what they can to give the Keystone State's 21 electoral votes to their party's candidate in 2004, the Philadelphia mayoral race in November was a lesson in campaigning, a test of dedication and an education in alternative linguistics.

"I've never heard Bush, [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and [Vice President Dick] Cheney called so many expletives in one sentence," said Steward.

Remembering the time she spent as a volunteer preparing anti-abortion posters for use at an abortion-rights rally, the Penn junior put down her magic marker and shook her head. "Being a Republican in this city is like being a pedophile or something," she said.

Incumbent Mayor John Street, a Democrat, prevailed over Republican Sam Katz after it was discovered that federal investigators had planted a listening device in Street's office as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of corruption in city government.

The revelation led to a swell of support for Street, who many alleged was the victim of a frame-up motivated by politics.

Some have suggested that Katz's loss -- which saw him fall significantly farther behind Street than he did in 2000 -- serves as an indication of how the city will vote in the presidential election.

"People said I don't want to vote for Katz because that means Bush will come to Philly and Bush will win Pennsylvania," Steward said.

Madonna said the mayor's race offers "a sampling of what we're going to see... next fall."

"There isn't a doubt that there is a deep seated, deeply held hostility toward President Bush" in this city, Madonna said.

"Philadelphia went heavily to Gore in the last election, 76 percent of the voters are registered Democrats -- the Republican campaign won't start with the assumption that they've won Philadelphia."

Focusing on Philly

Steward suggested that time spent in Philadelphia proper might actually yield negative returns.

"We're not going to win Philly by campaigning in Philly," Steward said. "All we're doing is getting out the vote for the Democratic candidate, reminding people that there's a presidential election."

Her Democratic counterparts agree.

"There's a lot of what I call ABB -- anybody but Bush," said Katseff, a Wharton sophomore. "Every Philadelphian we get to the polls is basically a Democratic voter."

Eisenberg noted that, even during the mayoral race, "our strongest selling point of anything we've tried here this semester has been, 'Get Bush out of office.' If you think you're seeing compassionate conservatism now, wait until he gets re-elected."

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