With Election Day less than six weeks away, the UT College Democrats are gearing up for a campaign they hope will win votes for John Kerry in a state that cast electoral votes for George W. Bush in 2000.
"We've been trying to show people that one vote can make a difference as we all saw with everything that went on in Florida in 2000," Maggie Valvo, UT College Democrats president, said. "Tennessee is a swing state, so we need to reach out to those people and show them that their vote will really make a difference to pull Tennessee one way or another. If they can pull it towards Democrat, we can get those votes and that'll make a difference."
Student apathy is one concern for the College Democrats, which has about 100 active members and 350 to 400 people on its e-mail list. Given the importance of the November presidential election, a lot of their efforts have shifted from their traditional role of primarily supporting local candidates to a greater focus on voter registration drives on campus. They are encouraging students to get out and vote.
"All of these people can come to meetings, they can come to tailgate parties, but the thing it comes down to is if they go out and vote," Valvo said.
"To me, it's really frustrating because of what happened in the last election," Susan Rush, College Democrats recruitment chair said. "This election is going to decide many things. It's going to decide Supreme Court justices. We're in college and we're going to be graduating soon. We're going to need jobs, for the economy to be better."
While the national campaigns have sometimes turned bitter with confrontations between Bush and Kerry supporters, the College Democrats have seen only competition at UT. Valvo said she has never seen any problems between the two organizations.
"I see a lot of conservative ideas and College Republicans is pretty big," Valvo said. "There's always been a rivalry between College Democrats and College Republicans about who has more members or who's doing more for their candidate. It's kind of been, I guess, a little bit of competition during voter registration."
In the run up to the November elections, UT students can expect to see a lot more of the College Democrats. Valvo said there will be College Democrats spread over campus in voter registration booths, handing out fliers and discussing platforms.
The College Democrats are coordinating with the state Kerry/Edwards campaign and other pro-Kerry groups in the state, and they are supporting local candidates. A "Rock for Kerry Concert" featuring local bands is also planned for mid-October.
"I can't stress enough for students to get out and vote," Rush said. "I definitely want them to vote Democratic obviously, but to just get out and vote in general because that's so important."
Rush said she would advise undecided voters to collect information beyond television. She said to go deeper than ads and examine all the issues.