Political campaigns charging down the home stretch are getting a boost from the youth movement, as area College Republican and Democrat groups have joined the fray in large numbers.
"We're going very, very strong this year. It's quite remarkable. Students are definitely interested," said Michael McDonald, assistant professor of government and politics at George Mason University. McDonald advises the campus College Democrats organization, which has seen its numbers skyrocket since students returned to campus in late August. According to McDonald, the club's e-mail list now has 600 members, and weekly meetings fill the group's assigned meeting room.
Likewise, Dana Loeser, student president of the Mason College Republicans, said she has noticed her peers getting involved in the upcoming presidential election, as well as local races.
"It's exciting," said Loeser. "I didn't know there were that many conservatives on campus." Loeser, a three-year president, who helped the club become officially recognized, said her club now has 400 members and signed up nearly 300 on the university's Patriot Day.
The primary goal of both organizations is to provide information to the students at the university about elections. Both groups, however, have become involved in mobilizing their troops to campaign for their respective presidential candidate.
"I feel like it's empowering, because there is such a stigma about young people being involved. You get the feeling sometimes from other students who feel like they can't make a difference," said Alexandra Nelson, a West Springfield High grad who transferred to Mason in 2003 from the University of Miami. Nelson serves as treasurer on the College Democrats board.
AREA HIGH SCHOOLS have been slower in getting their clubs up and running this year. Advisers from Lake Braddock and West Springfield high schools said although they have had clubs in years past, none have formed as of yet.
At Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, however, the Young Democrats club is thriving. Mallory Robinson of Burke, secretary for the Young Democrats, said the club has close to 30 members this year, and the club has been meeting weekly on Thursdays during election season.
"It's kind of exploded," said Robinson, a junior. "A lot of them are there because they're starting to take an interest in politics, and they want to make a difference in their community and their school."
The club hosts guest speakers, including 11th District congressional candidate Ken Longmeyer (D), and some members have been campaigning for Longmeyer.
"We talk about our position on issues. We do a lot of reading of articles from newspapers, to try to get balanced perspective," said Robinson.
THINGS ARE a lot busier at George Mason University. The New Century College is sponsoring four Debate Watch events to coincide with the three presidential and one vice presidential debates.
"This is an attempt to bring people together," said Janette Muir of the New Century College. "We want people to come together and enjoy the debates, but also be educated."
Both Republican and Democrat groups also plan to host debate-watching parties, beginning with Thursday's presidential debate. Other activities include handing out information, raising money for their club, and hosting speakers, including candidates for U.S. Congress from the 8th District.
"People complain about social issues, or the war, or even textbook prices, but if they're not participating, nothing's going to get done," said Nelson. She added that the visibility of celebrities who have begun encouraging young people to vote has helped show her demographic the importance of getting involved.
McDonald said he anticipates student enthusiasm will wane following the presidential election, but he hopes many students remain interested, especially with state elections in 2005.
"The trick is to keep the momentum going into the state elections," said McDonald. "This is a natural cycle, but it's really a shame, because the state elections really have more direct impact on the students' lives than the presidential election — their tuition, transportation, health care."
Among the upcoming planned events on GMU's campus are the debate-watching parties and a mock presidential debate on Oct. 4.