Conventions excite Nebraska activists
But will the interest spread on University of Nebraska campus?
By Amber Brozek
Special to CNN
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 Amber Brozek, a reporter at the Daily Nebraskan, the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
LINCOLN, Nebraska (CNN) -- Adam Heupl became interested in politics while sitting at home, watching the 2000 presidential debates with his father.
"My dad and I started talking about what was being said. And I discovered I liked talking about politics," he said.
Now, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore is majoring in political science and continues to be involved in politics. Heupl wrapped up his second semester as an intern for the Nebraska Democratic Party.
But his biggest political opportunity came in July -- a trip to the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Heupl helped Nebraska's delegates at the convention. He even saw his idol, Bill Clinton, speak.
"I was 20 yards away and I just don't know how to put it into words .... hearing him speak for the first time was just awesome," he said.
The best part of the trip, he adds, was seeing the "interactive" and "electrifying" crowd in Boston's FleetCenter, coming together to support presidential candidate John Kerry.
UNL student Kurt Arganbright, chairman of the UNL College Republicans and a volunteer for the Nebraska Republican Party, said watching the Democratic convention on TV made him want to experience the excitement for himself.
Arganbright, a junior majoring in agricultural economics, will be a page at the Republican National Convention next week in New York, helping national delegates and distributing convention material.
He hopes the event will provide an opportunity "to meet a lot of new people with a wide variety of backgrounds and unique perspectives."
Supporting the state party
Some analysts say the youth vote could be an important factor this election.
But in Lancaster County, Nebraska -- the county where UNL lies -- the number of registered voters among 18- to 24-year-olds has increased only slightly in past months, according to the county's election commissioner, David Shively who predicted registration would increase "right before the election."
Meanwhile, UNL student groups are trying to educate others about the issues and the parties and to encourage voter registration.
The student government has sponsored voter-registration booths, while the university notified students of online registration.
The school's Republicans and Democrats have also used booths to register voters and handed out fliers.
UNL Young Democrats, along with the Nebraska Young Democrats, will focus mainly on recruiting members to the party, registering voters on campus and raising interest in the local congressional races, according to the group's chairman, political science major Trevor Fitzgerald.
College Republican Arganbright said his group plans to work with the state party to help with door-to-door campaigning and registering voters.
The state Republicans' executive director Chris Peterson said the party would focus on congressional races in Nebraska, where Bush won 63 percent of the vote in 2000.
And the numbers still favor Bush. Among the state's registered voters, there are 544,979 Republicans, 378,157 Democrats and 157,021 independents, according to the Nebraska secretary of state Web site.
'Time's running out'
When considering the presidential candidates, students seem to look at similar issues but reach different conclusions.
Fitzgerald believes Kerry appeals to students because of his focus on education.
Student correspondent Amber Brozek.
"Look at Bush's record," he said. "The cost of education has sky-rocketed during his presidency."
The war in Iraq is also an important issue for students, Fitzgerald said.
"The war in Iraq still resonates with many students," Fitzgerald said. "Many young people are opposed to the war or have friends or family there, so it's a different situation."
Fitzgerald believes Kerry will "finish the job" overseas by forming a strong international coalition between the United States, France and Germany.
Arganbright thinks President Bush appeals to students because he is a "down-to-earth guy with a sense of humor." And because Bush has children just out of college, he understands students' concerns and difficulties, Arganbright said.
"I think Bush has a resolve that's unparalleled. He has a great Cabinet and he sets his mind, after gathering the necessary information for the issue, and then sticks with his decision without backing out just because of the public perception," Arganbright said. "He brings issues to the table."
"Time's running out. We're doing everything for Bush," Arganbright said. "But it's going to be a tough race."
As of early July, the city of Lincoln had 57,674 registered Republicans and 51,083 Democrats with 21,181 nonpartisan registered voters.
Arganbright, who hopes to set up a debate and voter registration drive with the Young Democrats, thinks it's unlikely the youth vote will swing the election.
"I just don't think that will happen," Arganbright said. "But all we can do is encourage students to vote, no matter who they vote for."