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Convention encourages students

Janice Flynn | Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Launching politically-minded Notre Dame students of all stripes into an autumn of campaigning for their respective parties in both national and local elections, the Republican National Convention kicked off this week with the challenge to reach a critical voting bloc of young adults.

The elected officers of Notre Dame’s College Republicans club made their allegiances clear, holding an informal convention-watch Monday night in the LaFortune Student Center. The group also plans to have a larger turnout for President Bush’s upcoming speech on Thursday, with both past members and newcomers who joined at Activities Night Tuesday.

Defense and national security, major themes of the convention and campaign, are important issues for them, group members said.

“The speeches were amazing on their own in humor, logic and emotion, but as a whole they present an underlying cornerstone of the Republican Party,” Notre Dame College Republicans secretary Jonathan Klinger said.

One Notre Dame student has been able to participate in the political process in an exceptional way. Senior Danny O’Driscoll has been working in New York for the convention this summer, and will remain there for the duration of the week.

“There has been a lot of excitement,” he said. “It’s going to be a great jumping off point for the fall campaign.”

Like many politically-active students, O’Driscoll will continue campaigning locally when he returns to South Bend. He has worked for Indiana Rep. Chris Chocola for the past three years.

While Notre Dame Republicans and Democrats plan to support their candidates in the national election, they will devote special focus to the local Indiana elections.

In the governor’s race, Republicans will support Mitch Daniels while Democrats back current governor Joe Kernan. Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly challenges Republican incumbent Chocola in the race for Indiana’s Second Congressional district.

Both the College Democrats and Republicans clubs boast large memberships, and the groups are hesitant to speculate on where the dividing political line of the student body lies.

“I think all degrees of the spectrum of political thought are reflected at Notre Dame,” said Professor William Schmuhl, faculty liaison to the College Republicans. “I’m really not sure that there are any studies done to indicate if the students are more conservative than liberal.”

College Republican club officials fall short of saying that Notre Dame leans conservative, but say that they receive a better reception than their Republican counterparts on other campuses. Klingler says such reception “refutes the claim that if you are in college, you have to be a liberal.”

Notre Dame College Democrat Co-President Colin Taylor says that the number of independent students at Notre Dame will factor in heavily into this election. Taylor said the College Democrats gained a record attendance at last week’s meeting, and believes the trend will continue.

“This election is invigorating everybody, especially the Democratic base,” Taylor said.

Both College Republicans and Democrats agree this year’s election has caught the attention of students in an unprecedented way.

“This semester I am seeing many people come out of the woodwork and start taking a political stance,” said Notre Dame College Democrats Co-President Nicola Bunick.

To encourage political participation, the two clubs have planned two debates for Sept. 8 and Oct. 6.

In addition, they intend to invite the editors of the liberal “Nation” and the conservative “National Review” publications to debate on campus, an event currently scheduled for late September.

“Notre Dame is full of civically minded students who will especially pay attention when the election is at hand,” said Taylor, adding that auditorium viewings of the presidential debates are also planned.

Students active in both political parties on campus will focus on voter registration this fall, particularly through the Rock the Vote effort.

“So many college students and young people in general don’t register or don’t vote,” O’Driscoll said. “I think that those who have interest should try to raise interest level in others.”