- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — College campuses are stirring back to life, and Eric Hoplin’s vote machine is ready to spring into action.

Mr. Hoplin, chairman of the College Republican National Committee, has 120,000 members, 60 field staffers and a multimillion-dollar budget directed at turning out 125,000 or more young voters for President Bush in battleground states.

“It’s go time,” Mr. Hoplin said. “We are turning the machine on, and we’ll have the volunteers and votes to re-elect the president.”

The group is combining old-fashioned registration drives with aggressive Election Day follow-up to ensure that this traditionally low-turnout segment of the population does more than just sign up to vote. It hopes to build on a 2000 surge that significantly narrowed the Democrats’ once-commanding lead among the under-30 crowd.

“We know who registered to vote. We’re going to visit them on Election Day and we’ll give them a ride to the polls,” said Mr. Hoplin, a 26-year-old graduate of St. Olaf College in Minnesota. “We’re going to call them. We’re going to harass them.”

The under-30 bloc is estimated at 48 million, but only about 18 million voted in 2000. Exit polls showed that 48 percent of those under 30 voted Democratic and 46 percent voted Republican. In 1996, Democrats held a 19-point lead with this group.

Democrats also are working hard for the youth vote.

Grant Woodard, a junior at Grinnell College in Iowa and head of the College Democrats of America, said that his group is registering voters but also recruiting thousands of young Democrats from safe states and dispatching them to swing states to work for Sen. John Kerry.

“In an election this close, the president can’t afford to lose any demographic,” Mr. Woodard said. “Students are going to be a huge voice in this campaign.”

The College Republican National Committee has been a training ground for party leaders since the mid-1970s, when White House strategist Karl Rove had Mr. Hoplin’s job. Other former leaders include former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed and the late Lee Atwater, the South Carolina political operative who ran the elder George Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign.

Mr. Rove spoke to College Republican leaders Monday night, calling their effort “absolutely vital to the election.”

As students began returning to campuses across the country last week, College Republicans had a presence outside freshman orientations and residence halls. In the weeks ahead, they will be going door-to-door at dorms and fraternity and sorority houses.

Particularly in toss-up states, they are mining all four-year colleges for voters and volunteers. Mr. Hoplin said that special attention is being paid to universities with ROTC programs and religious schools, where they hope to find more conservatives.

In Pennsylvania, that means spending time at Grove City College, a small Christian school outside Pittsburgh, but bypassing Swarthmore College near Philadelphia, a tiny university with a liberal reputation.

“We’re going to deploy our resources where they’re most effective,” said David Copley, the Pennsylvania Federation of College Republicans chairman.

College Republicans has raised $7.5 million toward a planned $10 million budget, their largest ever. Most of the 32,000 donors give small gifts, but they have received some six-figure donations from wealthy individuals and companies.


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