Local party activists believe college students will help determine outcome of the election

Tyler McIntosh

Young voters are key on both sides of presidential ticket

Jerry Downey and Sandy Halem are so alike, yet so different.

Both spend their days volunteering at small two-room election headquarters on Main Street in Ravenna, taking and making phone calls, distributing literature, sending e-mails, receiving donations, coordinating campaign rallies and anything else that could possibly get a voter to support his or her candidate.

The two are also extremely passionate about their political views. Downey, a middle-aged volunteer at the Portage County Republican Party Headquarters, is a lifelong Republican.

“I’m against socialism, and I think the opposition are socialists and I don’t want the nation to go socialistic,” Downey said. “I want it to be open and free and I believe in the Republican credo that government should only do those things that people can not do for themselves. We make the effort because we think we’re right, and we think they are wrong.”

On the other hand, Halem, the Second Vice Chair of the Portage County Democratic Party, is a Democrat convinced that the Republicans have run dirty races for years and that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will win the election.

“What bothers me is the fact that the ads have taken too much importance,” Halem said. “You can say anything you want in an ad. Nobody is vetting that ad to find out if it is true.”

But both volunteers agree that young voters will have monumental influence on the election, particularly in Ohio, a swing state that has both presidential candidates furiously fighting for the state’s 20 electoral votes. Ohio voters could very well decide who the next president is.

According to the Washington Post, Obama has made 36 appearances in Ohio since Feb. 15, 2007, while McCain made 30 during the same time frame.

Halem said she knows the majority of college-aged voters are Democrats, but she also worries the voter turnout in the age group will remain low. A 2006 report by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that only 46.7 percent of eligible voters in the 18-24 year-old age group voted in the 2004 presidential election.

“I think they mean well, but I don’t think they understand the consequences,” Halem said. “They don’t feel urgent about it. If there were a draft, they would feel urgent about foreign policy. They really don’t understand the consequences of having a trillion dollar deficit.

“They are not very literate in civics anymore. They don’t understand the difference in the two parties at all.”

Between fielding calls and guiding people to where they can find an Obama/Biden lawn sign, Halem said that she notices a different vibe this time compared to the 2004 election when it comes to who young adults will vote for in November.

“In the last presidential election, people who came in this office did not like George Bush,” Halem said. “The people who come in this office now really like Barack Obama and Joe Biden. That is a big difference.

“They were not excited about John Kerry the way that they are about Obama and Biden. It really makes a difference about how you work when you’re just negative about something or when you are positive.”

Meanwhile, Downey is left contemplating how Republicans can break the stereotype many young voters have that the right side of the political spectrum is the wrong side.

“I think that the best thing we can do is to inform,” Downey said. “We’re running an uphill battle against the Democratic establishment. We’re trying to involve as many young people as we can.

“I know my grandson has joined the College Republicans at the University of Akron, and the College Republicans at Kent State is maybe 40 in numbers now, and they are active.”

For Halem it’s very simple. If Obama can win the majority of young voters in November, he can start making plans to move into the White House in January.

“Eighteen to 30 can win in Ohio and change the election unless, of course, there is corruption in some way or suppression of voters,” Halem said. “I hope that won’t happen. There’s no doubt to me it’s the young people that will determine the election. It’s right that they should. They are the ones who will fight the wars and pay our debts.

Contact public affairs reporter Tyler McIntosh at [email protected].