October 12, 2007

Looming primaries draw campus political activists

With “Google Ron Paul” slogans chalked on sidewalks across campus and fliers for Barack Obama student rallies slowly overtaking hallway corkboards, students at the U of C are beginning to show their political colors just in time for the oncoming presidential primaries.

“It is certainly an interesting campus,” said third-year Eliot Weinstein, “but people here are open to debate.”

Weinstein, who supports Senator John McCain’s presidential bid, said that unlike students from some other top universities, U of C students typically do not shut down the ideas of people with opposite views. He said that his peers here have been civil to him about his opinions.

There is support on campus for many Democratic and Republican candidates, with students expressing their sentiment in both offical and unofficial forums.

Third-years MarLa Duncan and Amanda Wingate work as interns in Senator Barack Obama’s national headquarters and serve as student coordinators of the Students for Obama RSO.

Duncan said Obama was one of the first political candidates she truly liked and was inspired to become actively involved in his campaign.

“I want to do anything I can to get this man elected. He’s the only candidate I have ever wanted to help get elected.”

Wingate said she worked at a campaign training session called Camp Obama this summer, an event she said represented the grassroots nature of the campaign.

“It was incredible to meet a diverse group of people who support Senator Obama. They are all very busy and involved in other things but are still an active agent in the campaign,” she said.

Native Chicagoan and first-year Graham Rosby worked on Obama’s 2004 Senatorial campaign through a program at his high school. It was Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention that really introduced him to the Senator’s ideas, he said.

“He’s the only one who has a clear path or really bold objectives with what he wants to do with foreign policy,” Rosby said. “He wants to move beyond 20th-century conventions and talk to leaders that past presidents wouldn’t have.”

Weinstein said he supports McCain for a variety of reasons, but that one of the most important is McCain’s strong character. According to Weinstein, McCain is reasonable, pragmatic, honest, and committed to his beliefs, even if they are unpopular.

“He takes a stand in an issue he sees and really believes in it. It’s an honesty issue,” Weinstein said.

Dan Johnson, the founder of UChicago Students for Ron Paul, said that he is inspired by Paul’s honesty and his passion for creating a constitutional government.

Third-year Ron Paul supporter William Thoburn said one of the reasons he likes Paul is because Paul is not like the Republicans currently in office.

“He follows the mold of what I thought a Republican was. He’s more of a traditional Republican, not a neoconservative,” Thoburn said. “We think he is going to surprise a lot of people come voting time.”

Third-year Thomas Hansberger said that while his own politics do not fit the Republican stereotype, he is supporting Rudy Giuiliani in the election. He said America needs a moderate president after Bush’s polarizing presidency.

“He seems to be more practical than most political candidates. As mayor of New York City, he did what was most appropriate for the city regarding immigration, and I think he will apply that philosophy to the rest of the nation and look at the circumstances and determine the best solution,” Hansberger said.

Second-year Yucong Ma said she supports Senator Hillary Clinton in the election and believes Clinton’s experience and connection to Bill Clinton will be assets to the country.

“Coming out of the last eight years under Bush, I think America needs a strong leader who will know what to do about the economy, the ‘war on terror,’ and how to improve America’s image on the world stage,” she said.

According to second-year Felipe Cocco, who supports Senator Joe Biden, it is important to step away from media hype surrounding Obama and Clinton and look at the candidates themselves. Cocco said he does not feel out of place supporting Biden, who he feels is the most qualified candidate, in a university with many Obama connections.

“I am discouraged by a lot of the students here who are for him because I have met quite a few who told me that the sole reason behind the support is that he is from the South Side and that he was a faculty member at the Law School. To me, that’s ignorance at its finest,” Cocco said.