BY ANDREW GROSSMAN
Published September 11, 2006
Correction appended: Due to an editing error, this story misidentified Morgan Wilkins as an intern for the Republican National Committee. She works for the College Republicans National Commitee. Correction Appended
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It's still early in the election season, but the College Republicans and College Democrats have already launched campaigns to seduce your vote in November.
On Sunday, the College Dems pulled on Ann Arbor's strong liberal roots and brought in John Dingell, a congressman from Dearborn who has had a hold on Michigan's 15th district longer than many students' parents have been alive.
The College Republicans have other ideas, some not quite as mainstream as parading popular politicians.
Morgan Wilkins, the intern hired by the College Republicans National Committee to win the hearts and minds of Michigan 20-somethings, is planning events that some may find odd. To others, they may be offensive.
One such idea is "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day," in which a volunteer would play the part of an illegal immigrant and hide somewhere on campus while others try to find him. The winner would receive a prize.
Her other ideas include an event called "Fun with Guns," in which young Republicans would use a BB gun or paintball gun to shoot cardboard cut-outs of Democratic leaders such as Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)
The College Dem's events might not be as contentious as Wilkins', but they seem to have struck a chord with their followers.
Dingell, a crutch tucked under one arm, hobbled to the microphone at the College Democrats' mass meeting Sunday and addressed a crowd of more than 200 students. They came to their feet and applauded the congressman from Dearborn.
"This is going to be a very interesting year," said Dingell, who spoke alongside Lt. Gov. John Cherry. "You can make a real difference in how this state goes."
While Dingell faces no major opposition in his bid to add another term to his half century of service in the U.S. House of Representatives, Cherry and running mate Gov. Jennifer Granholm are in a tight race with Republican challenger Dick DeVos.
Leaders of the two student groups are confident that their campaigning will make a difference in the race.
"We're going to walk, we're going to talk, we're going to knock our way to victory on Election Day in November," said LSA senior Jamie Ruth, chair of the College Democrats.
Students have formed campus chapters of Students for DeVos and Students for Granholm. They began recruiting Thursday at Festifall, an annual event on the Diag where student groups look for new members.
Wilkins, who was trying to recruit supporters behind one of the Festifall tables, will spend the days between now and the election driving a green Kia across the state, planning events and sleeping in a different hotel each night as she tries to rally students to support Republicans.
The RNC hopes her efforts will turn out young Michigan voters for DeVos and Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, who is running to unseat Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. She's confident she won't disappoint.
"I'm out to build up a mass base youth effort," Wilkins said.
The College Democrats of America, the umbrella organization that includes the University's chapter, has made no such personnel investment here. Because the University's College Democrats are a relatively strong, well-funded organization, that's not necessary, said the national group's president, Lauren Wolfe, who spoke at the mass meeting.
Members of both parties say student turnout will be heavy and crucial in the race for governor. On Sunday, Ruth announced plans to register 2,500 voters on campus this fall - voters the group expects to back mainly Democratic candidates.
"You have a lot of young students who are very concerned about the future of the state and country they live in," Cherry said after his speech Sunday, adding that this makes them likely to vote for the Democratic ticket.
"Student outreach is our number-one concern," said LSA senior Anthony Sandoval, chair of Students for DeVos. "This race crosses well beyond partisan lines because of the depletion of the Michigan economy at this point, and jobs are an important issue for students graduating from the University of Michigan."
The groups have similar plans for reaching students, such as door-to-door campaigning in student neighborhoods and distribution of literature at football games.
They will also work outside the University, contacting voters on behalf of their candidates. The Michigan Republican and Democratic Parties have both set up offices in Ann Arbor, which provide the student groups with resources like phone banks to call likely voters. The student groups also plan to travel, canvassing neighborhoods around the state.
Though recent polls show Granholm holds a slight lead over DeVos, the race is far from over. Looking out over the crowd of College Democrats, Dingell, whose district includes Ann Arbor, was optimistic about his party's chances in November.
"We're going to give those Republicans the run of their lives," he said.