As the Michigan Democratic primary approaches, student campaign organizations are working to spread the word about their candidate before the election on March 10. These efforts rely on members of those organizations tabling and phone banking to reach voters both on campus and in the greater Washtenaw County area.
The University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats has hosted some debate watch parties, which were attended by members of multiple politically affiliated student organizations. While College Democrats does not endorse primary candidates, four other political groups — Students for Bernie, Students for Biden, Students for Pete and Students for Warren — are working to elect their preferred candidates.
According to LSA freshman Andrew Schaeffler, who is co-founder and campus organizer for Students for Biden, the group is focused on reaching out to Michigan voters as the primary approaches, especially those with absentee ballots.
Schaeffler said he started the group in October 2019 when he saw there was no student organization for Biden at the University.
“In general, I think a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, (Biden) is a member of the establishment. What has he actually done?’” Schaeffler said. “That’s been pretty much the main conversation that we’ve had with students.”
Schaeffler said Students for Biden has been working with both the national and state campaigns to expand its voter reach. He felt the group’s outreach efforts had a generally positive response from students.
“It’s no secret that Joe Biden isn’t the most liked candidate among students,” Schaeffler said. “But I do think that given that, we’ve had a very good response among students. When they leave, we’ve had people that have been like ‘You know what, I don’t agree with you, but at least now I understand your point.’”
Though both supporters of Biden, LSA freshmen Adam Grimes and Kenny Larson joined Students for Biden for different reasons. Grimes said he felt personally connected to the senator because of his own involvement in Philadelphia politics, which he said Biden influenced when he was a senator of nearby Delaware.
Meanwhile, Larson started this election cycle as a Pete Buttigieg supporter, then switched his support to Biden.
“I still like Pete Buttigieg as a candidate,” Larson said. “But the reason that Joe Biden specifically appealed to me (was through) having conversations with Andrew … and other members of the Biden organization, getting to know them and really digging into the policies.”
While all the groups hope to get voters for their respective candidate, their target audience varies. According to Schaeffler, Students for Biden focuses on students, helping them navigate absentee voting and encouraging civil engagement.
On the other hand, according to LSA freshman Sonya Love, a field captain for Students for Warren last semester, her organization works closely with Washtenaw for Warren, which focuses on residents across the county. Students for Warren is also directly affiliated with the national Warren campaign.
Love said she worked to create plans for various field events. She said she has been a supporter of Warren since the beginning of summer 2019.
“I’m just really drawn to her message,” Love said. “I really am inspired by the positive change that I think she would bring to this country as president. It’s also just cool to meet like-minded people.”
Love said she has been attending Students for Warren meetings since the group first formed and has also participated in phone banking sessions.
“It’s palpable how excited people are about Warren as a candidate,” Love said. “They’re excited to make change in every way they can.”
Students for Bernie is a student organization affiliated with the national Bernie Sanders campaign, which recently opened a campaign office in Ann Arbor. The national campaign has provided resources, including two paid staffers and weekly call-in checks to help guide the group.
LSA sophomore Anna Nedoss, Students for Bernie organization chair, told The Daily the national Sanders campaign putting resources into student organizations demonstrates an investment in college voters.
“The support that we get from the campaign is super valuable,” Nedoss said. “They help us do a lot of ‘get out the vote’ initiatives, so we actually are working directly with people who are paid by the campaign to come help us. That’s how much the campaign is really emphasizing student voter turnout and just the student demographic.”
LSA freshman Porter Hughes, co-founding member and communications director of Students for Bernie, said he works to spread the word about the senator through social media in addition to the tabling and phone banking events. Hughes said he went through training over the summer with the national Sanders campaign to prepare to lead Students for Bernie.
“Over the summer, they taught us a lot about how to organize on campus, things of that nature,” Hughes said. “And then we also brought in other groups or other people from our group to help join the leadership team and just like our general membership.”
Hughes emphasized his support for Sanders, saying his policies will allow everyone to have equal opportunities for success.
“We really believe in Senator Sanders’s mission: to transform our country, transform our politics to something that makes it possible for everybody to have the same opportunities,” Hughes said. “This is the kind of world that we need to live in and Sanders fulfills that vision and we are very happy to assist him.”
Students for Pete was founded by LSA senior Jessica Kosticak to bring together U-M students who support Buttigieg for president. Business freshman Jay Rubin said he found out about Students for Pete at the beginning of the year. Rubin said he is supporting Buttigieg because he believes Buttigieg is the most electable and the candidate best suited to beat President Donald Trump.
“When you look at the other candidates, I believe Pete is the best candidate because Sanders and Warren are way too far left and aren’t electable candidates,” Rubin said. “Klobuchar does not have enough support, Biden is too old and Bloomberg just entered the race too late. Combined with Pete’s well-spoken tendency and the fact that he’ll bring stability to the White House that we lack during the Trump presidency, I also believe he is the best candidate and he has a proven track record of success with being the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.”
Rubin also said he thinks supporting Buttigieg on Super Tuesday is the next step to making sure he wins the Michigan Democratic primary.
“With Super Tuesday coming up, it’s definitely encouraged us to do our best to ensure that Pete does get a lot of votes and ultimately, hopefully, the nomination,” Rubin said. “We all believe in Students for Pete that Pete is the best candidate. While we respect every other candidate, we do believe that Pete has the best chance to win the White House back and the primaries are just one way to achieve that.”
Beyond political affiliations and hopes for their candidate, however, student organizers aim to get more people to the polls. Larson said one of his priorities is increasing political participation.
“Even more than just promoting Joe Biden, we want to make sure that students most importantly, are civically engaged, whether they be Biden supporters or Trump supporters or nonvoters,” Larson said. “I think it’s really important that we have people, whether they be on any side of the political aisle, supporting any candidate or no candidate, to be willing to have open conversations.”