Democratic officials encouraged Wolverines to follow their instincts and “go blue” this election Tuesday afternoon when Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic vice presidential nominee, visited the University of Michigan’s campus to give a speech on the Diag.
Kaine’s visit marks the first time Hillary Clinton's campaign has visited campus and the vice presidential nominee’s second time in the state, which went to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Democratic primary, partially due to young voters. Kaine’s last stop in Michigan was in early August in Grand Rapids.
Before heading to the rally on the Diag, the vice presidential nominee first went to Espresso Royale on State Street, where he met with students as well as Ann Arbor residents.
Much of Kaine’s speech centered on student debt and bolstering Clinton’s higher education reform plan, along with civil rights and the importance of Michigan as a swing state. Speaking before he took the stage, LSA junior Shavon Edwards emphasized the importance of voting for Clinton because of her commitment to higher education.
“As students, affordability of college is a huge issue,” Edwards said. “Now we have the opportunity to make history and to take away that burden by electing our next president Mrs. Clinton and next vice president Mr. Tim Kaine.”
During the primary season and previous elections, Clinton has had mixed success with younger voters, especially on college campuses like the University’s. During the 2008 campaign, voters aged 18 to 29 favored her opponent now-President Barack Obama by a margin of 57 to 41 percent.
Eight years later in the 2016 primaries, Sanders won Washtenaw County, 55.4 percent to Clinton’s 43.7 percent, taking Michigan overall in an upset win. He visited campus in March, as well as visiting Eastern Michigan University, and made a higher education policy — free college — one of the cornerstones of his campaign. After dropping out of the race, Sanders worked with Clinton to expand her higher education platform to encompass some of the ideas presented in Sanders’ such as offering free in-state tuition for families making under $125,000.
In his speech Tuesday, Kaine emphasized Michigan connections to Clinton’s plan, saying that 90 percent of Michigan families would be eligible for free in-state tuition if the proposed reforms are implemented. Currently, Michigan residents, like those in many other states, face significant loan debt burdens — overall, Michigan residents owe over $39 billion in federal student loans.
Kaine also focused on contrasts between Clinton’s and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s visions on higher education policy. Noting that Trump has not yet released a specific platform on higher education reform, the vice presidential nominee suggested students refer instead to Trump’s background in higher education, citing Trump University — a educational program launched by Trump currently facing multiple lawsuits over charges that it defrauded students.
“Who understands higher education? Who understands the power of an education?” Kaine said. “The choice is very, very clear: If you want a pro-education president, it’s got to be Hillary Clinton.”
Kaine also emphasized contrasts between Clinton and Trump on other issues, charging that Trump encourages hateful speech and behavior.
“If you cannot call out bigotry, if you cannot call out racism, xenophobia — if you can’t call it out and you stand back and you’re silent around it, you’re enabling it to grow,” he said. “You’re enabling it to become more powerful … so I’m happy to be on a ticket with someone who’s not afraid to call it out.”
He also touched on equity issues, calling the election a greater movement toward equality through “breaking the glass ceiling” and electing a female president.
Referencing the low numbers of women in Congress — currently they make up 19 percent, which is the highest it has ever been —Kaine said it is time for the United States to step up to the plate.
“We are good at a lot of things,” he said. “But electing women to federal office is not one of them.”
Engineering freshman Evan Ciancio, who attended the rally, said that emphasis is what attracts him to the campaign.
“They’re supporting equality,” Ciancio said. “I see everyone at Michigan as equal, and I like how they also see that.”
Beyond appealing to the college setting through an emphasis on higher education, Kaine also kept his speech local by focusing on issues affecting the state of Michigan — such as the improvement of the auto industry — and the role the state has the potential to play in the election.
“Michigan is really really important. Both sides are competing very heavy in Michigan,” Kaine said. “We like what we see in Ann Arbor — I’d rather be us than them — but, it’s close.”
Currently, Clinton leads Trump 45.3 to 39.7 percent in Michigan, according to an average of polls from RealClearPolitics, though Trump and his campaign have expressed the goal of turning the state red several times. The state has not voted for a Republican presidential nominee since President Ronald Reagan.
Kaine ended his remarks with that focus, encouraging students to be mindful of the role the state could play in the general election and volunteer for the campaign.
For many students who attended the event, the perceived importance of the 2016 election is already on their mind.
“It’s really important all the students are out showing that we actually do care about something like voting,” said LSA sophomore Natalie Burr, “because it is going to be really important in this state for Tim Kaine and Hillary Clinton to win the election.”
Not all agree with Kaine’s remarks, though. Sam Barke, a freshman at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, traveled to Ann Arbor to protest Kaine’s Diag speech.
“I think that Hillary Clinton stands for more of the same of what’s been going on in this country in the eight years of failed Obama policies,” Barke said. “She’s corrupt.”