GOP Race Draws Campus Battle Lines
Published: Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 07:09
As the GOP nomination fight heats up, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) and Mitt Romney supporters in the College Republicans are drawing lines in the sand.
For Chairman of the College Republicans Joe Knowles (COL '12), his allegiance is fully behind Perry; he is also the cofounder of the national "Students for Rick Perry" movement. The initiative, which works off a Facebook platform, is attracting broad support in the early primary states. Knowles was also featured nationally in several Fox News Broadcasts this summer as a student supporter for Perry.
His counterpart at the College Republicans, Director of Campus Affairs Maggie Cleary (COL '14), regularly works to promote the rival organization "Students for Mitt Romney" as campus director at Georgetown. She frequently coordinates with other student chapter leaders to advocate for the candidate.
"Every so often we make snide remarks at each other," she said jokingly of Knowles.
To complement the usual College Republican meetings, the group has recently been holding watch parties for the Republican debates. According to Cleary, these frequent face-offs have sparked their own lively arguments among club members.
"You really know what camp everyone stands in," she said.
Colin Cortes (COL '13), vice chairman of the College Republicans, was a supporter of Romney in the last election cycle. Three years later, he finds himself leaning toward Perry. Although Perry's brand of conservatism is seen by some as polarizing, Cortes argues it may give the GOP the best chance to win in 2012.
"When we've tried to nominate a moderate Republican, it often hasn't worked out," Cortes explained. "John McCain was definitely a moderate in everyone's book, and because of that he wasn't able to mobilize Republicans. Sometimes mobilizing your base can be more important than attracting independents."
Cleary, an ardent Romney supporter, took a different tact.
"Personally, I think Perry is a little too conservative," she said, adding that Romney's moderate views have the best shot at winning the general election.
"He's terribly presidential," she said.
In the latest poll from USA Today and Gallup, Texas Governor Perry leads the field with 31 percent of Republican support nationwide, while former Massachusetts governor Romney is within striking distance at 24 percent. While the two GOP frontrunners have ratcheted up their personal attacks in recent weeks, the College Republicans remain unified in their overarching goal: ousting President Obama.
"The Georgetown College Republicans are mostly split right now between Romney and Perry," Knowles said. "But our goal is to have a candidate who can defeat Obama in 2012, not to pick fights with other Republicans."
The national explosion of student activism for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign was seen as pivotal to his election. Now, with the president's poll numbers sliding, College Republicans speculate that Obama's youthful source of support may be waning.
"There are probably many college students who might not have been as focused on this election," explained Kevin Baird (COL '12), chief of staff for the College Republicans. "But because they're realizing that they will be out in the job market in a few years, they'll see that this president has not done of good job of improving that situation."
"I think college students are frustrated with Obama's strategies, and I think Obama is losing a lot of his young support because of that," Cortes added.
The College Republicans are currently actively courting the candidates to make a campaign stop at Georgetown. Knowles would not comment on responses so far, but Cortes was willing to speculate.
"Because of some of the connections we have, I think there is the possibility that we bring either Perry or Romney to campus, but we'll see," he said.
In light of party allegiance, however, the group has pledged not to show favoritism for either candidate — including organizing campaign trips or making endorsements — until a nominee has been selected.
"At the end of the day, we are all going to support whoever the nominee is," Cleary said.