Representatives of student groups supporting various presidential candidates faced questions about how their respective contenders would solve problems that face the black community at a forum yesterday.

The event, a panel discussion held at the Michigan League, was organized by the campus chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a historically black sorority.

Students supporting Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and John McCain explained their respective candidates’ stances on education, health care coverage, economic growth, foreign policy and discussed these how these policies would impact blacks in the United States.

School of Nursing senior Lauren Underwood, Alpha Kappa Alpha executive board member, said the event was organized to expose students to the options available to them.

“People talk a lot about the issues, but on election day, there seem to be some obstacles causing people not to vote,” Underwood said. “This event is meant to overcome the obstacle of the lack of information.”

Underwood said the event was held not only to encourage students to vote in Michigan’s primary on Jan. 15 but also reduce the level of confusion surrounding the primary.

Many Democratic candidates, including Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. John Edwards ( D-N.C.), have removed their names from the ballot for the Michigan primary, fearing that New Hampshire voters would punish them for campaigning here. The state of Michigan moved its primary forward, in violation of Democratic and Republican National Committee rules.

In response, the RNC has stripped Michigan of half of its convention delegates. The DNC stripped the state of all of its convention delegates.

After introducing his candidate, LSA senior and Students for Edwards chair Travis Radina explained the options voters will have if they choose to cast a ballot for a Democrat. He encouraged Edwards’ supporters to vote “uncommitted,” explaining that write-in votes for Edwards will not count in his favor because of the complications with the Michigan primary.

Throughout the discussion, Radina emphasized Edwards’ desire for change and focus on improving the lives of “average Americans.” He outlined Edwards’ goals for the eradication of poverty and improvement of public education.

LSA sophomore and Students for Obama chair Tom Duvall said that while his candidate’s opinions on economic and education reform are consistent with the Democratic party, he said that Obama’s background has provided him with a unique perspective on poverty.

“He has been on the streets of Chicago and seen the racial disparity,” Duvall said.

Duvall said that Obama would work to eliminate the health care industry’s excess spending, citing the $1 billion spent by health insurance companies on governmental lobbying.

Duvall said Obama’s stance on the United States’ involvement in Iraq was distinct because of its careful and expedient plan for withdrawal.

LSA sophomore Kelly Bernero, chair of Students for Hillary, said that Clinton’s platform focuses on providing quality health care for all Americans. About 47 million Americans do not have health care coverage.

LSA junior and College Republicans chair Chris Irvine, who was unable to attend the lecture criticized Clinton’s stance on health care. “President Clinton put Hillary in charge of a health care program, and she failed miserably,” he said.

Irvine said that Republican candidates will address the health care crisis in America by working with private insurance and pharmaceutical companies to keep control of health care in the hands of American citizens.

LSA senior Gideon D’Assandro, who represented Students for McCain during the debate, said McCain’s policies would encourage competition that promotes quality health care.

D’Assandro also defended McCain’s policies on Iraq. He told audience members that McCain would continue to deploy U.S. troops until the country did not need a U.S. military presence to maintain control.

“We put a nation into chaos,” D’Assandro said, referring to Iraq. “We might not like it, but we’re there. We have a responsibility to stabilize that nation.”

After the discussion, D’Assandro, the lone Republican panelist, said that Alpha Kappa Alpha was successful in it’s attempts to keep the discussion non-partisan. He said that it was unique forum, which required special preparation.

“African-American voters don’t represent a large portion of the Republican constituency,” D’Assandro said. “It was a big switch for me to tailor these responses to African-American concerns.”

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