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Campaigns attracting local help

Jan. 22, 2004

By Rachel Hartgen, reporter

Current primaries and upcoming elections have college students nationwide sporting Bush bumper stickers, Dean T-shirts and Edwards political buttons.

Political campaigns have attracted Baylor volunteers and political organizations to rally support, all prompted from the belief that grassroots efforts help elect a candidate.

Monday's Iowa caucus shifted the 2004 Presidential campaign into gear as Democrats placed their vote for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who received 38 percent of the vote. As a record number of Iowa Democrats headed to precinct conventions Monday night, Stacy Koo, a Sugar Land senior, crossed her fingers in hopes voters backed who she viewed as the best candidate: Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.

Koo flew to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last Friday to join Edwards' campaign in a three-day voting drive.

'We went out Saturday and Sunday door-to-door in minus 12-degree weather to discuss the candidates and issues and urging caucus-goers to go out and vote for Edwards,' Koo said.

Edwards lost Iowa's vote but came in second with 32 percent of democratic support, leaving Koo and campaign workers ecstatic.

This solid second position could still secure Edwards a seat in the presidential race this fall, Koo said. Regardless of Edwards' chances, Koo said she and campaign workers won't throw in the towel anytime soon.

'You keep fighting for a candidate you believe in,' she said, 'And I believe Edwards is the candidate to beat Bush.'

Iowa, by tradition, begins the string of democratic primaries throughout the country. The top three finishers receive more attention throughout the rest of the primaries, but the results don't guarantee the final democratic nomination, according to the British Broadcasting Corp.

The race eliminates candidates - Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) withdrew from the election Tuesday night - and increases financial support to top finishers.

Six of the eight nomination contenders competed in Iowa, while candidates Wesley Clark and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) concentrated campaign efforts in New Hampshire, where primaries are scheduled for late next week.

Iowa's unique caucus system holds meetings in 1,997 voting districts throughout the state. Voters meet and discuss the candidates and form groups according to their candidate choice.

These votes determine how many delegates for each candidate will attend the National Democratic Convention.

This system encourages more participation between the party, voters and candidates, BBC said.

Candidates and workers spend long days knocking on doors, stuffing envelopes and punching out numerous phone numbers to prepare for the caucus, but the grassroots efforts are necessary, according to Koo.

Two sources ignite Koo's commitment to Edwards' campaign: a passion for politics and an admiration for the man himself. Growing up, Koo's parents encouraged an interest in politics, and she quickly acquired leadership roles in school.

Her interests flourished through political science classes at Baylor, and Koo soon declared herself a political science major.

Through Baylor's American University program, Koo interned in Washington, D.C., last spring semester. Her typical college day included public policy lectures and campaign fundraising for Edwards.

'You read about campaign laws and donation restrictions, but fundraising for Senator Edwards, you had to use such laws,' Koo said. 'It was no longer just a book fact.'

Following her internship in Edwards' campaign office, Koo kept contact with the senator and participated in local election efforts. When campaign workers asked her to join the Iowa campaign, she couldn't resist. She figured her professors would excuse the absence.

'It's an honor to work (for Edwards) and the issues he stands for,' she said. 'I will do anything for him, in a sense, because I believe he has genuine values that are in line with my own.'

Koo is one among many Baylor students working to rally political support for candidates.

Between classes and college life, Waco freshman Karen Petree serves as the McLennan County primary elections administrator for U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards' (D-Texas) congressional campaign, a position she earned after serving in his congressional office during high school.

It's Petree's responsibility to recruit judges and clerks to work each precinct. Other election tasks include creating press packets, posting yard signs and making phone calls throughout the county.

Petree plans to travel with the campaign and possibly introduce the congressman, an opportunity she experienced earlier this year.

'Before the announcement, I was really nervous, but Representative Edwards gave me a pep talk,' Petree said.

Edwards faces fierce competition this fall due to recent redistricting maps that redrew the 11th district, Edwards' previous district. Edwards will now run in the 17th district.

This legislation pushed Petree and campaign workers to increase election efforts earlier this year hoping that lobbying and word-of-mouth will bolster Edwards' numbers.

But the real work will begin after the Republican primaries, scheduled for March 9, determine Edwards' opponent.

For Petree, that means her schedule won't ease up until late November, a disadvantage she doesn't mind.

'When you see those numbers come in election night, it's rewarding,' Petree said.

Election season may increase political involvement, but for the most part, many Baylor students remain apathetic, Petree said.

Instead, heated political issues, not smooth-talking candidates, draw student involvement, Clay Schramm, a Plano junior and Baylor Democrats secretary, said.

He said his political experiences have assured him of one thing.

'College is a time to explore your attitudes toward deciding what your political visions are,' Schramm said, 'Then, find a candidate that meets that vision.'