In today’s America, it’s more the norm than the exception to watch the evening news on CBS, thumb through the pages of The Washington Post or New York Times and find stories about liberal students among America’s young voters. When many conservative groups felt marginalized in a news climate where media coverage of Rock the Vote and college anti war protests labeled all youth as liberal, the University of Mary Washington’s College Republicans were anything but silent or bashful about expressing their Pro-Bush stand in the election of 2004 from as far away as campaign trips to the swing state of Pennsylvania and as close to home as volunteering to be Bush poll workers in Spotsylvania County, VA.
The UMW CR Chairman Andrew Lamar and the club’s other officers mobilized half the club membership and several students from Farmville, VA’s Longwood University to caravan to Philadelphia three days before the election. These 85 young Americans traveled on two chartered busses through the rain and dark of night to bring with them a message not of hate and recklessness that Kerry pollsters wanted Americans to believe was inherent in the Bush campaign, but instead came wielding the energetic delivery of what they believed President Bush stood for; “I’m here to tell the people in this swing state to come to the polls on Tuesday for the George W. Bush to reelect a man of real moral leadership, who has given us all four years of strong national security, lower taxes and fiscal responsibility,” said freshman Justin Schlesinger.
Representatives from the local Republican Party took the CR’s trip as serious news. Members stopped for a sendoff in style at the home of Russ Moulton, Chairman of the Republican Party of the 1st Congressional District that featured food, drinks, and State Del. Mark Cole and U.S. Rep. Joann Davis in attendance. Rep. Davis remarked that the CR’s will “make or break the election,” saying, “we simply can’t do this without you. Where we win is on the ground with the grassroots and that’s all you.” Del. Cole added to Rep. Davis’ sentiment, saying, “These college kids are going into battle right on the front line. They are fired up and they are going to take PA by storm!”
Kara Meeking, the group’s Publicity Chairwoman, recounted her favorite battleground state experience from the first day on the Pennsylvania campaign trail saying: “We were driving to cover some neighborhoods pretty far from the staging area and we saw some Kerry people with huge signs on the opposite side of the road. We decided to park the van and a bunch of us got out with our signs and had our own little impromptu rally on the other side adjacent to the Democrats. We chanted four more years and to our surprise, people drove by and honked at us positively. Some other Pennsylvanians stopped their cars too and got out and chanted with us. We were defiantly fired up. Eventually you couldn’t even hear the Kerry people over our chanting. It was a real morale boost. Seeing so many Conservatives in PA taking notice really made us feel good about our chances.” The next day found Kara’s group being followed by a camera crew from Irish TV. Mary Washington CR’s were even featured in an AP photo that ran in the Washington Post and USA Today, taken with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) , who came to speak to the Philadelphia Bush Team on the last day of the group’s journey.
On the way back to Fredericksburg, Chairman Lamar talked about how he felt about the results of the trip, saying: “We were very productive. We knocked on thousands of doors, did mass literature drops at stores, churches and community centers; we even interrupted an Eagles game on Sunday to tell people how important it is to come out on Tuesday for the president. I think these folks did a great job really reaching out in minority areas, letting them know we do care about their vote too, and they dealt with friendly environments and unfriendly environments with an equal calm and definite resolve. I think we really did change some minds there and got the message across just as well to our base. Win or loose PA come Tuesday, we really made Kerry pay for some popular votes up there for sure. PA is not going to be held as strong by the Democrats as it was in 2000 I can tell you that much.”
The CR’s didn’t stop with one campaign stop either; they spent the next two days doing mass literature drops around the school and the city of Fredericksburg, as well as volunteering to do street sign waving for the president and working the polls on election day. Members of UMW CR’s handed out sample ballots to voters at the polls and talked about issues ranging from moral values to national defense with last minute undecided voters on Election Day. Still others chose to stand along roadsides in the county just waving Bush signs to show that there are students that don’t believe John Kerry is the best choice to govern the world’s only superpower. UMW CR’s were single-handedly responsible for a 2:1 manpower margin against the Democrats on Election Day at more than 12 polling precincts in Spotsylvania County at large and Fredericksburg city. One voter at Robert E. Lee Elementary Precinct who said she was voting for Kerry remarked to CR’s that were present, “I’m voting for Kerry, but I do have to hand it to you guys, you are really out here in force. There has to be something that can be said for that.” When the polls closed at 7pm on the East Coast, the CR’s went back to school and immediately began setting up the Students for Bush Victory Party in one of the school’s recreational Halls called ‘The Underground’.
Many reporters covering the election believed the youth vote would turn out in droves and vote in a block for Kerry assuring a Bush defeat, as evidenced by articles like the David King post Kerry concession November 4 piece in the Boston Globe that read, “Young adults told pollsters they planned to vote. What happened?” We questioned Mary Washington CR’s 2nd Vice Chairman John Triolo during the early hours of the Victory celebration asking what his thoughts were on the role that 18 to 20 something’s played in the election. He said: “It’s pretty obvious, or should be to the Democrats at this point that no matter how much rocking the vote they do, some of us will never be swayed by how Jessica Simpson, Ben Affleck and Brittany Spears tell us to vote. I think pundits think more often than not, in clichĂ?Æ? Â©s and sound bites while some of us in that ‘critical youth voter block’ just prefer to think. I believe that a lot of us CR’s are often discounted by the press and pundits because our events don’t get the coverage that Vote or Die or Rock the vote gets. We don’t have huge stars to attract the cameras, but we do have a message that I think is not reactionary, but really is progressive in a real sense. I think conservativism in social and economic issues is going to take America to a new and better place that we had once, let slip away in the 60’s and 70’s, had in the 80’s, and is resurging now. Democrats keep saying the future is in the youth. I think, looking at that map (referring to the red states) I agree, I just don’t think they like what it means for them when they realize there is more to the youth vote than a few rock bands and actors.”
During that same party for the president, Stacey Slaughter, another UMW CR, echoed Mr. Triolo’s sentiments saying: “The Democrats underestimate College Republicans, Young Republicans, Teen Republicans and just young conservatives in general. Look, We took busses to PA hoping to do something worthwhile to reelect the president. The Democrats went to concerts. Yes, young people like hearing a good concert, but that’s all most of this Rock the Vote and Vote or Die stuff is, just some music with some frantic cheers for Kerry they will probably be forgotten in the morning. I wonder what would happen if these starlets talked about real issues. All of us are patriots and we know people involved in the war because many of our friends are serving in Iraq. Most of us are at childbearing age, so pro-life issues are critical to us. Faith is important too because many of us are Christians and don’t like Kerry’s flip flops on abortion. Many of us are concerned about social security and want the chance to be trusted with investing our own money we work for. The fact is that those things, not a Hollywood starlet or two are what get us out to the polls and that those issues will keep us voting conservative.”
More than 100 UMW CR’s gathered together that night to watch the election returns with Fox News on the big screen. They celebrated with each state that came in for Bush. A few Democrats even came to watch too. When Ohio came up for grabs and stayed ahead for Bush many CR’s waved signs and chanted 4 more years. Some huddled together and prayed for victory. The party moved from the Underground to the school’s common area, The Eagle’s Nest after midnight. Several CR’s moved to a dorm to keep watching into the wee hours of the morning as well.
Corey Byers, a junior from Massachusetts attending the party shared her thoughts on John Kerry as the returns showed more conclusively in favor of a decisive bush Victory and Republican Sweep of Congressional seats. “I think the star power the Democrats offered was sharp, but fleeting for the Senator. I think Kerry is stiff and just not personable and that resonates with a lot of smart, observant young students. I certainly prefer Bush to Kerry and I’m a Libertarian. I’m from Massachusetts. I pay taxes to Massachusetts even though I go to school at Mary Wash. I pay his salary and he doesn’t show up for work 72% of the time, No. I do not want that man as my president. He just doesn’t deserve it in my opinion. I don’t think he deserves to be a senator, let alone commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military.
As the evening wore down to the end and stretched into the morning, Mary Washington’s CRs were confident that the election had gone the way they had worked and prayed for. Chairman Lamar said that “the faith vote came out strong, the youth came out for the right man and here at Mary Washington, we are going to bed, but not to sleep. We are going to keep going. The great thing about CRs is that there is always something to do, always another election and always something to give back to the community. We have events where we raise money for a battered women’s shelter and help people solve people’s problems, not government. We have debates we sponsor between campus conservative groups and liberals. We have a message of responsible government that we are going to keep standing behind. Even when nobody is watching, we have a job to do and that’s what’s going to happen.”