There will be no more hand-holding as College Republicans cross the Potomac River, demanding recognition from Washington politicians. No longer engaging in “junior politics,” these dedicated students have earned a place in the deep end of the Republican pool.
With the past leadership of Eric Hoplin and the 2002 campaign finance law making the organization an independent “527” political committee, the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) has taken on a more active role within the GOP–most significantly its fund-raising prowess.
After raising more than $17 million in 2003 and 2004, it’s hard to ignore these young Republicans who have full-time staffers, hired field operatives and have a seemingly bottomless supply of eager volunteers in more than 1,600 clubs. Past chairmen include Karl Rove and Grover Norquist, for instance.
“We’ve just in the last election cycle produced more votes, volunteers and media to help re-elect the President then ever before,” said Paul Gourley, the newly elected chairman. “I think there’s going to be a lot of Republican candidates out there who rely on our help.”
Indeed, College Republicans did have a stable presence in the 2004 presidential campaign–hosting phone banks, parties for the President and literature drops. And as they prepare for the 2006 congressional campaigns, they must strengthen their current member base.
“Our priority is to work with these College Republican state federations and try to build them up,” said Gourley, “not just in one state, not just in target states, but we want a country of strong robust College Republican organizations.”
Recruiting Young GOPers
This fall, the prime time for freshman recruitment, College Republicans will do just that. The CRNC also plans to send 12 full-time field representatives to help strengthen existing clubs and scout out schools that have not yet joined the conservative youth movement.
“If we hope to maintain a Republican majority in America, we’ve got to continue to reach out and bring in new members to the party and new people from all over the country,” explained Gourley.
Having served as a field representative for Bret Schundler’s campaign for New Jersey governor in 2001 and running the statewide youth effort there, Gourley understands the importance of preparing upcoming Republican activists.
“Political training changed my life,” said Gourley. “It gave me the resources, the tools, the know-how to really go out and make a difference on campus.”
In 2002, he lead the youth effort in South Dakota, where former Rep. John Thune was running for U.S. Senate seat occupied by Democrat Tim Johnson.
Running as the establishment candidate for CRNC chairman in the 56th Biennial College Republican National Convention–he previously served as national treasurer–Gourley believed that his experience is what set him apart from his opponent, Michael Davidson of California.
“I’ve been traveling to states all across the country–a lot of battleground states–and training College Republican activists how to run statewide youth efforts, how to start new College Republican clubs and how to organize and activate existing clubs in order to help elect Republicans and provide the votes, volunteers and media necessary to win.”
Gourley won the election, despite several allegations of questionable fund-raising methods last fall. Response Dynamics, the direct-mail company used by the CRNC, issued letterheads with ambiguous language suggesting that donated money would go to the Republican Party or the Bush campaign, instead of the independent College Republicans.
Davidson’s platform challenged College Republicans to “align our fund-raising practices with our principles.”
“The bottom line is to have integrity,” said Davidson. “Some [College Republicans] may have lost it, some may have found it. But the point is to have it–because we’re the next Republican generation and without integrity, we’re nothing.”
Gourley assured College Republicans that the fund-raising firms the CRNC is currently working with are reputable and that the administration before him solved the problem. The new treasurer, Tom Robins, declined to comment on the issue. Davidson, however, expressed the importance of the national board’s involvement in the fund-raising process.
"The letters that we put out should all be reviewed–every single one should have the language approved,” said Davidson. “And we should stand by our signature. We should stand by our name. Each letter should have the organization’s name on the top. We should be proud to be College Republicans.”