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Inside Politics

Presidential politics at MSU take a breather

By Dirk VanderHart
Special to CNN

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 Dirk VanderHart, 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.

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Student correspondent Dirk VanderHart stands on a bridge overlooking the Red Cedar River, which flows through MSU's 150-year-old campus.

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EAST LANSING, Michigan (CNN) -- The atmosphere on Michigan State University's campus is more subdued now that the dust has settled on the Democrats' race for a presidental candidate.

With John Kerry the likely nominee, the once-vibrant discussion among Democratic student groups on campus has diminished.

"A lot of the excitement has died down," said MSU College Democrats public relations coordinator Jaclyn Macek, just returning from a weekend in Ohio where she campaigned for Kerry.

"Part of the challenge is going to be bringing the party back together. It's been a rough primary."

A little more than a month ago, political fervor seemed to reign on campus.

Fliers touting various candidates covered bulletin boards, students discussed and debated hot topics and a week without some sort of political rally was a rarity.

Prominent political figures such as Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, Al Sharpton and Ted Kennedy made stops here, all of them stressing the importance that young people have in this year's race for the presidency.

When Kerry visited the nearby city of Flint, Democratic and Republican students alike made the hour-long trip to see what he had to say.

The enthusiasm was perhaps best exhibited on the day of Michigan's Democratic Caucus, when members of student groups traversed Grand River Avenue, East Lansing's main throughway, brandishing homemade signs and eliciting honks of support.

Others waited outside of polling sites in last-minute efforts to stump for candidates.

The need to 'stay intense'

Macek said that the emergence of a Democratic nominee should spur increased excitement among Democrats, not signal lessened activity.

"As far as getting people fired up, Michigan is going to be a huge state for the general election," she said. "Our goal is to stay intense."

Even students who identify themselves as liberals and who were not behind Kerry from the get-go are lining up behind him. Their underlying philosophy, they say, has not changed: Anybody but Bush.

"He has my support without a doubt," said former MSU Students for Dean member Jacob Phelps. "We don't necessarily agree with everything the Kerry platform has, but he's certainly better than the current president."

The Students for Dean were initially among the most outspoken groups against Kerry on MSU's campus.

"He is a little too right and a little too conservative, but the fact of the matter is that it's that touch of conservativism that's going to make him attractive to a lot of people," Phelps said.

Republican advantage

While campus Democrats spent the past months duking it out over the party's nomination, the MSU College Republicans appear to have been quietly mobilizing.

The student group, which began its work in November, has been making efforts to spread the president's message.

"We had the advantage of knowing who our candidate was going to be," said MSU College Republican Jason Miller on a call from California, where he was assisting the party. "We've been out. We've signed up hundreds of people to vote and distributed literature. ... We're not going to stop."

Meanwhile, one MSU Republican decided to take his efforts to the state level.

Tim Phelps, a sophomore studying political theory, is a co-chairman for Students for Bush in Michigan. The group is made up from universities and colleges throughout the state, Phelps said, and is one of the largest Students for Bush organizations in the country.

"These people are really excited," Phelps said. "They realize that Michigan is a battleground state."

He added that the fact that Kerry is likely to be the Democratic nominee gives his group a newfound motivation.

"Now that the Democrats have a nominee, the focus shifts," he said.

"We have to let people know that the president has a positive message that Kerry doesn't. In the next couple of months we'll certainly see the type of election this will be."


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