By Andrew Schulman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 9, 2012
With Election Day only 56 days away, the University’s chapters of College Democrats and College Republicans kicked off the school year with mass meetings held in rooms brimmed with students interested in becoming more politically active in the coming months.
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As both student groups commence their fall campaign efforts, members of the organizations said that high attendance at their mass meetings is reflective of the coming competitive election season, even in a city that traditionally supports Democratic candidates.
LSA junior Alexandra Brill, chair of the College Democrats, said she was satisfied with the standing-room-only crowd of about 140 students. However, she noted she was disappointed that the attendance did not match the group’s 2008 mass meeting numbers, which were nearly two times Sunday’s attendance.
Leaders of the College Republicans said they were similarly content with a standing-room-only crowd that came out to the Michigan League at their meeting Sunday evening.
For the College Republicans, the attendance and fervor to deny President Barack Obama a second term in office is indicative of the group’s collective confidence that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will win in Michigan.
Citing a Public Policy Polling poll released last week that showed that Obama holds a seven-point lead in the state, Matt Jones, state director of Students for Romney, said the College Republicans could help the Bloomfield Hills, Mich., native win the state.
“It really comes down to our ground game, and the (College Republicans) are a big part of that ground game,” Jones told students at the meeting. “So really, you can make a difference, and because Michigan’s a swing state for the first time since 1988, we can influence the entire national election.”
Jones added: “And of course, I don’t even need to say, it’ll feel great to knock Barack Obama out of office.”
In an interview after the event, LSA junior Russ Hayes, internal vice chair of the College Republicans, said the desire to remove Obama from office may have boosted meeting attendance, which he said was the best in the last three years.
“Why do we want to keep going for another four years?” Hayes asked. “We want to try something different. We want to try real, actual change. Why don’t we see some real results?”
Earlier in the day, the University’s chapter of the College Democrats touted Obama’s accomplishments, claiming his political triumphs are the reason the upcoming presidential election is exceptionally significant.
U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) also spoke at the College Democrats meeting, along with state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) and state Sen. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor).
In his address to prospective members, Dingell recited a line that Vice President Joe Biden used with supporters at a late-August event in Detroit.
“General Motors is alive, and Osama bin Laden is dead,” Dingell recited.
Dingell also discussed the Affordable Care Act, student loans and the automotive industry bailout of General Motors and Chrysler.
Fran Brennan — Michigan director of Working for America, a labor organization for working families — also spoke at the event, and said this year’s election could be a turning point in the country’s history, underscoring the importance of young voters.
“This is the time,” Brennan said. “If you don’t get engaged this time, it really is serious, because this is a crossroads. It’s going to determine what your life is going to be for years to come.”
She urged students to get out to the polls, emphaszing that the youth vote is critical to Obama’s re-election efforts.
“You in this room can be the difference between whether we are celebrating on November 6th a new era with Barack Obama, or we are not celebrating and we are fearful about what the next four years will bring,” Brennan said.
At the College Republicans meeting, students discussed campaign efforts for the Republican candidates for the University’s Board of Regents, including Dan Horning and Rob Steele. Leaders also discussed the group’s structure and upcoming activities.
The major constituency among students at both meetings was freshmen, who said they attended to influence the outcome of the election and be more politically active.
Engineering freshman Phil Brenz said he attended the College Republicans’ meeting to aid Romney’s election efforts. He said he felt like an “outsider” at the University before the meeting, but afterward felt enthusiastic.
“I feel pretty energized, and like we can make a difference in the campaign for the fall.”
—Sam Gringlas contributed to this report.