What do Ron Paul, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich have in common? Other than extreme political ideologies, they are the only presidential candidates who visited the University before yesterday’s primary. The meager candidate attention afforded this campus has robbed students of the opportunity to interact with a seemingly remote political process, made even more remote by the national parties. Not surprisingly, students returned the favor: Voter turnout in precincts largely dominated by students was only about eight percent.
In November, the state set a primary date of Jan. 15, a violation of party rules. The Democratic and Republican National Committees both struck back, rendering the state almost irrelevant. With Republican candidates offering a weak effort at best and Democratic candidates avoiding the state entirely, the chances of luring the likes of John Edwards and Barack Obama to the University became slim to none.
Being located in a pivotal swing state should have been reason enough for a politically active campus like this one to warrant some candidate attention this primary season, especially from Democrats. In 2000, Democratic nominee Al Gore came to the University for a question-and-answer session with students, and in 2004, candidates including Howard Dean and John Edwards at least planned to visit campus, even if they later cancelled. These candidates recognized the willingness of University students to participate in the kind of issue-based dialogue that primaries usually lack.
In the past, candidates have also recognized that student enthusiasm translates into votes and victories. This is a strategy that worked for Obama in the Iowa caucuses, where 57 percent of voters under 30 years old caucused for him. Where students weren’t propelling him to a victory by caucusing, they were organizing the get-out-the-vote effort, a pivotal part of any successful campaign.
But with the exception of Paul, even the Republican candidates who campaigned in Michigan bypassed the University – some against better judgment. Rather than speak to students of voting age, Mitt Romney spent Monday morning campaigning at a high school. In an unsatisfying substitution, he sent his son to talk to University students at the Brown Jug in the early afternoon, not exactly a peak hour for bar-going.
It was commendable that Gravel and Kucinich came to Ann Arbor in spite of pressure from the DNC, but the Democratic candidates and their party should have recognized their obligation to the people of Michigan. With the state’s poor economic situation only becoming an increasingly urgent problem, voters should be focused on whether the need for change is being heard, not whether they are being heard at all.
It is a terrible shame for Michigan and its students in particular that both were left out of the process of nominating the next president. The University should have been one of the main campaign stops in Michigan, but thanks to the national parties, students were left with little more than an empty ballot, Romney’s son and a few fringe candidates.