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College Democrats torn between seeing Jon Stewart and working on campaigns

Chris Moody Contributor
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With Comedy Central’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” and the “March to Keep Fear Alive” scheduled the weekend before the midterm elections, politically minded college students face a choice: Do I want to spend a day with television comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for a party on the National Mall, or sit in a windowless room for hours making cold calls to strangers for a political campaign?

For some members of Democratic college clubs around Washington, the decision is not an easy one.

Commonly known as “Get Out The Vote” weekend (GOTV), college political groups typically spend the waning days before elections volunteering at phone banks and knocking on doors, a free service that many candidates find crucial to last-minute campaigning. But a few campaigns could lose a chunk of their infantry on Oct. 30, when Stewart and Colbert plan to hold massive rallies that promise to draw thousands of young people to the capital city.

The College Democrats of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, for instance, are planning to send a busload of students to Washington for the rallies. Students in the group, which includes about 50-75 active members, have been campaigning for candidates around Baltimore but plan to take the day off Saturday to make the trip.

Club President Daniel Hochman, a JHU senior, said that although he has seen a drop in enthusiasm from the 2008 presidential election that brought President Obama to the White House, he hopes the Comedy Central rallies will help to invigorate the base. By election time 2008, the group had made about 15,000 phone calls and knocked on more than 1,000 doors in three different states.

“I think if anything, it’s going to raise enthusiasm in the group,” Hochman said.

As for groups at colleges within the District, most are planning trips to the rallies.

“We’re encouraging as many people as possible to come out to the event,” said Alex Joensen, communication director for the District of Colombia Federation of College Democrats, which represents six private schools in the city and works with arms of the Democratic Party like Organizing for America and the Democratic National Convention. Like the Hopkins organizers, Joensen said he is looking for the rally to encourage students to get excited about the elections.

“We hope that by going to the event we’ll have as many of our college students in D.C. geared up and excited to vote on November 2nd,” he said. “That’s really the point.” When asked if he thought the rally might distract from the GOTV effort, he replied, “I hope that’s not how it is.”

The question of whether to attend the rally or campaign for the Democratic Party is not limited to the regional area. Media mogul Ariana Huffington has announced she will charter buses from New York City for anyone who wants to attend, a promise that is enticing fans throughout the northeast.

Colleen Kutney, a junior at the University of Albany and communication director for College Democrats in New York, said that while they don’t have any official plans to organize transportation to D.C., a number of students are planning to drive down — a reality the group has to deal with when trying to organize campaign work.

“That’s one of my biggest worries actually,” Kutney said. “We know that is the weekend before [the election] and we are a little concerned, but we’re just trying to do the best effort that we can.” She added that there has been debate among members as to whether they should spend the day volunteering or at the rallies in Washington.

NEXT: What about College Republican clubs?
Although it is almost certain that there will be Republican college students attending the rally, no College Republican clubs will officially be sending groups to the rallies, a spokesman from the College Republican National Committee told The Daily Caller.

“We’ll be out in the field,” national director Rob Lockwood said. “The long term effects of electing responsible leaders supersedes any enjoyment we can get from attending the rally.”

The prospect that Democratic candidates could lose some of their campaign base, even just for a few hours, seems to have Republicans thrilled.

“Any rally that takes the Democratic operation off track and has them just partying on the National Mall for a couple hours during the most pivotal time of the election, I fully support them going,” said Colin Schmitt, president of the College Republicans at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. “I hope they recruit as many people as possible.”

Most Republican students from Catholic University won’t be in the city anyway, he said. The national Party is paying for them to volunteer on campaigns around the country. The club at Catholic University alone is sending students to as many as 18 states that need the campaign help.

A national spokesman from the College Democrats of America said in an e-mail to TheDC that while they are “not officially involved in the rally” they “encourage College Democrats to continue to work to get Democrats elected this Fall,” and “recognize that everyone participates in their own way.”

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