Both of the remaining Democratic presidential candidates have specific plans to increase financial aid. The difference between them is narrow, and if either is elected to the presidency students can expect a more affordable tuition bill. Any student whose primary concern is financial aid – and there are many of you on campus – should support the Democrats.

If you simply have to support a Republican and want one with an ambitious financial aid platform, there isn’t a great option. John McCain is the overwhelming frontrunner in the Republican race, but is he the best for students’ wallets?

Except for some coded references to school vouchers, the education policy positions on his website are ghosts. Schools must be “accountable.” We should hire “the most effective, character-building teachers.” As president, he will “pursue reforms.” That’s a sharp contrast from the Democrats, both of whom provide detailed proposals.

McCain doesn’t even mention higher education, let alone financial aid. The closest thing to a reference to college affordability is this statement: “He understands that we are a nation committed to equal opportunity, and there is not equal opportunity without equal access to excellent education.” There’s a tough stance.

McCain’s voting record on financial aid is also abysmal. In July, for instance, he voted against H.R. 2669, which did things like limit monthly repayment bills to 15 percent of discretionary income (good for students) and helped clean up subsidies to private lenders (good for students). The bill passed 78-18 in the Senate.

Since Mitt Romney dropped out of the race last week, McCain has been attacked by the far right as not conservative enough. As he rushes to ingratiate himself with the right, expect him to try to seem more “fiscally responsible.” College affordability isn’t what Rush Limbaugh wants to hear about.

Besides University of Florida President Bernie Machen – a former University of Michigan administrator – who for some peculiar reason endorsed McCain, the Arizona senator doesn’t have much support in higher education. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, those who list higher education institutions as their employers have given $2.1 million to Barack Obama, $1.7 million to Hillary Clinton and only $228,000 to McCain. Maybe there’s a better reason for that than liberal bias on campus.

McCain, though, isn’t the only Republican candidate still in the race. Mike Huckabee has vowed to hang on at least until McCain clinches the nomination, even though he doesn’t really have much of a chance. Why? Because as he said on Saturday, he “didn’t major in math. I majored in miracles, and I still believe in them, too.” He has also said he doesn’t believe in evolution.

Those aren’t the sentiments of someone you might expect to be a friend of higher education. But compared to McCain, he’s the Ivory Tower’s soul mate.

The education policy page on his official website is more robust than McCain’s, and for a Republican it’s full of specifics about what he’s done in the past and what he wants to do in the future. Unlike McCain, his policies don’t aggressively pander to the religious right’s support of school vouchers.

As governor of Arkansas, he has supported funding increases for the state’s public universities to keep tuition down. In a 2005 State of the State address, Huckabee risked political backlash to tell the story of an illegal immigrant who was ineligible for financial aid. Then he supported legislation to make in-state tuition rates and aid available to illegal immigrants.

Those are the kind of risky, non-ideological stances students should be looking for.

There’s another Republican in the race, Ron Paul. He wants to eliminate the Department of Education, which is really all you need to know.

Last week in this space I endorsed Obama as having better financial aid policies than Clinton by a slim margin. There’s a bigger difference between McCain and Huckabee, and Huckabee gets the nod for the GOP.

Karl Stampfl was the Daily’s fall/winter editor in chief in 2007. He can be reached at

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