An insider's view of the battle for Connecticut's youth vote

How the Democratic campaigns fought for the allegiance of college students in one Super Tuesday battleground, and how one campaign came out on top.

Published February 6, 2008 12:25AM (EST)

(Note from Alex: As you all have probably noticed, there are contributions in War Room from lots of people besides me today. This one's from a very special guest: my younger sister. Kate's a senior at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and, as I learned, much to my surprise, only a couple of weeks ago, the president of the Trinity College Democratic Club. Since Connecticut is a battleground state in the Democratic primary -- the most recent Rasmussen poll had the race at a tie -- and since the youth vote has been unusually important in this year's race, she was courted for her help and support by the campaigns of both front-runners. I thought it'd be interesting to have a first-person look at how the campaigns have been going after the youth vote in a battleground, so I asked her to write the following post. Please note that the opinions expressed below do not reflect my own, and that in fact we rarely agree on anything, including but not limited to politics, who should be quarterbacking our hometown football team and whether she has any legitimate claim to our parents, since, after all, I was first.)

HARTFORD, Conn. -- For my first event as head of the Trinity College Democratic Club, I worked with the head of the college's Young Republicans Club to organize a day for students to register to vote in the Connecticut primaries and participate in a mock election. We had spent time before the event brainstorming ways to break through college students' usual political apathy and motivate them, make them passionate about a candidate or at least informed about presidential politics in general.

It was to no avail -- just 50 students came to our campuswide event (Trinity has about 2,500 undergraduates), and every one of those attended because a professor had promised them extra credit.

The one positive thing I got out of that first try was the contact I made with members of the Young Democrats of Connecticut, and with Connecticut's Democratic chairwoman, Nancy DiNardo, whom I met at the event. Both offices gave my name and phone number to the Hartford offices of the campaigns of both Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama. Within 24 hours, I had heard from both campaigns.

Initially, I was bombarded with phone calls and e-mails from staff and volunteers from both campaigns. The people from the Clinton campaign I spoke with were friendly and eager to drop off posters, bumper stickers and informational pamphlets on campus, but their enthusiasm for the college and our students ended there. I can't really criticize them for anything -- they didn't do anything wrong -- but there was just something missing from their pitch. They weren't themselves youthful, and beyond that, they just didn't seem interested in us.

The people from the Obama camp were something entirely different. They invited me to their campaign offices, gave me a brief tour and convinced me to get involved with the campaign. They then helped me organize a meeting (complete with pizza to bribe college students perpetually on the prowl for free food -- that was my idea) where they would come and speak to students about Obama's policies as well as their motivation for and experiences in working on the campaign.

Sure enough, the smell of 12 pizzas lured about 45 students into the common room of my dorm last week. John, the representative from the Obama campaign who came to speak, was eloquent, but more important, his passion about and belief in Obama's message were immediately evident, and his pitch was so effective that after the meeting all of my peers who were in attendance approached me and asked how they could get involved in the campaign.

Critics of Obama who say that he is naive, too hopeful that he can change something that is unchangeable, are most likely the same people who attack my generation for being too lazy and entitled to care about this election. But watching the way the Obama campaign dealt with me and inspired me and my peers has made me a believer. I have met dozens of young, educated 20-somethings over the past several weeks who have taken a year off from college, or even their first jobs, to work to motivate people the way Obama has motivated them to work. Friends of mine who earlier hadn't even stopped playing Guitar Hero III long enough to eat put their guitars down and stood in line for three hours in 25-degree weather to see Obama speak in Hartford on Monday.

I can't say for sure how the vote here will turn out, but from what I can tell here, Obama and his staff in Connecticut have inspired and motivated thousands of college students for the first time in our lives.

By Kate Koppelman

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