For those who have never visited Gary, IN, the city’s name probably evokes that Music Man song more than politics. But for fourth-year Juliana Shulman, who visited Gary last Saturday with Students for Barack Obama (SFBO), the phrase of the day was “Yes, we can!”
As Senators John McCain and Barack Obama gear up for a final month of campaigning before the November presidential election, U of C students from all over the political spectrum are mobilizing for their candidate of choice. That’s why Shulman and dozens of other U of C students ride the Southshore Metra to Gary on weekends to canvass for Obama.
Shulman has volunteered at the Obama campaign’s downtown Chicago headquarters for months and said that traveling to Indiana made her more optimistic about the reach of Obama’s campaign.
“I didn’t personally speak to anyone who wasn’t an Obama supporter [while in Gary],” she said. “But it was discouraging that so many of his supporters weren’t registered voters—there are really untapped portions of that community.”
Though McCain supporters make up the minority of voters on campus, many of them are just as active as Obama’s supporters.
Fourth-year David Grossman is planning a solo trip to Pennsylvania later this month to campaign for McCain at a local congressman’s office.
“It’s kind of a lost cause here,” he said, of Illinois’s staunchly Democratic sympathies.
Grossman said his experience as one of a handful of the University’s McCain supporters has been a positive one.
“It’s given me an appreciation for the other side of the spectrum and challenged what I think and value,” he said.
Grossman isn’t alone in rallying behind McCain. Kristin Paulson, a graduate student in the Masters of Public Policy program, has begun soliciting support from student groups like the College Republicans for the Illinois chapter of Young Professionals for McCain.
Through that organization, which is not affiliated with the University, she is planning canvassing trips to Wisconsin, another battleground state, and phone-banking at the Chicago GOP office.
“Just because you’re not going to win the state of Illinois doesn’t mean we should just give up,” Paulson said. “Every vote counts.”
Paulson met with the College Republicans this week, she said, and “they seemed very glad to be part of a bigger group of McCain supporters in the city of Chicago.”
“We also have a lot of Democrats, like Hillary supporters who came over. We’re a really diverse group, from Libertarians and Independents to staunch Republicans.”
As for Students for Barack Obama, the group is focusing its final outreach efforts on Indiana, according to second-year Rebecca Maurer, leader of the University’s SFBO chapter, because the typically red state appears to be narrowly divided between Obama and McCain in recent polls.
“We have the first chance of flipping that state blue since the 1960s, so we’re going up there every weekend,” Maurer said.
Besides leading canvassing trips to Indiana, SFBO has been encouraging students from swing states to register to vote in their home states, distributing absentee ballot request forms and operating phone banks. The table it runs in the Reynolds Club to register voters has been generally nonpartisan, Maurer said, because she thinks it is important that students vote, even if their political leanings are away from Obama.
“I have a strong belief that our generation should be voting in much higher numbers than we do now because I want our generation to be taken seriously,” she said.
If there’s one thing Obama and McCain supporters on campus can agree on, it’s that political discussions at the U of C are rarely polarized.
“I think the intellectualism of the school reflects in how people approach politics here,” Maurer said. “There are pockets at the University for every group, whether you take it from a conservative approach or a very liberal approach. What I see around me is a lot of enthusiasm.”