WABC, the ABC television affiliate in New York City, came to Lehigh University to report on student voter registration efforts. Watch a video of Art McFarland's report on Young Voters.
Interest in the 2008 presidential campaign is at historic levels nationwide, and Lehigh University students have been swept up in the drama as well.
For a college campus not traditionally known for intense political activity, the current campaign is engaging students in voter registration drives, campus events and coordination with local offices for both Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama.
Chris Addy ’10, president of the College Democrats, says he already has more than 400 students on his mailing list, with 50 who attend the weekly meetings.
“There are a good amount of committed people and I am very proud of that,” Addy says. “It’s an election year with a magnetic candidate and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”
Addy’s counterpart, Chris Huether ’09, president of the College Republicans
, is also seeing an influx of students interested in being a part of the campaign.
There are about 160 students on his mailing list, he says, and about 40 that attend the meetings regularly.
Huether and Addy agree that the main objective of both of their groups is to get students to register to vote and go to the polls on election day.
“The most important thing students can do is make educated decisions,” Huether says. “Watch the debates because that is where you’ll get the most unbiased information, and you’ll get it straight from the candidates’ mouths.
For Addy, an economics major who grew up in nearby Lehighton, his experience with the College Democrats at Lehigh is the culmination of a strong interest in politics.
“My parents always voted Democratic, and I didn’t have to rebel to be punk,” he says. “My belief systems and moral compass would have led me to the Democrats. I believe in their ideals – in freedom.”
During his tenure as president of the College Dems, Addy says he wants to encourage even greater involvement among Lehigh’s student population.
“My job as president is not a position of power,” he says. “It’s taking the young whipper-snappers who come to college with the idea to becoming politically active and showing them the way to get involved.”
Huether, a double major in finance and accounting from Scotch Plains, N.J., also found a way to funnel his strong conservative political outlook and interest in politics into his role with the College Republicans.
His group has been instrumental in organizing several events on campus, including participation in registration drives, and bringing prominent speakers to campus, such as former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who spoke to the Lehigh community last spring.
Beginning Oct. 20, the College Republicans are planning a series of speakers and events for “Paint the Campus Red” week.
Huether hopes to encourage the members of the College Republicans to spread their knowledge.
“It’s exciting, considering the close and exciting nature of the election,” Huether says. “Hopefully, people will be involved in discussion and discourse.”
Huether, who also volunteers at the McCain campaign headquarters in Westgate Mall, feels his group is facing a steeper challenge this year, as many Lehigh students are gravitating toward the Obama campaign.
Addy, not surprisingly, agrees.
“Everyone I know is either in my club or one of my friend’s, and they all support Obama,” Addy says. “I see a lot of support; this is a large Democratic year. I hope that we, as a generation, will rise up and claim our America.”
Addy’s group already hosted one high-profile event, when former Grey’s Anatomy
star Kate Walsh came to campus in mid-September to meet with students and generate support for a voter registration drive. Several more events are planned through the month of October, Addy says.
Huether encourages students to educate themselves on the candidate’s stands on issues.
“Some people might vote for Obama because they are ‘voting for change.’ If you stand by his principles, then I’ll respect you,” Huether says. “But if you are just voting for Obama because Kate Walsh told you to, then I won’t.”