Indiana U.'s College Republicans on the issues
By Thom Patterson
The IU College Republicans hold their weekly discussion meeting.
CNN.com's Thom Patterson reports on Republicans and politics at Indiana University.
Editor's note: As part of our coverage of the 2004 election season, CNN.com is sending correspondents to the colleges where they studied to report on issues affecting today's young voters. In this edition, Thom Patterson returns to his alma mater, Indiana University.
BLOOMINGTON, Indiana (CNN) -- As an icy blanket of snow falls on Indiana University's limestone buildings and frozen footpaths, a small, off-campus coffee shop is red-hot with Republican rhetoric.
Fifteen members of the IU College Republicans, known as the CRs, are seated around tables discussing the 2004 presidential race -- and all things political -- during their regular Thursday discussion group.
The president of IU's CRs, 21-year-old Angel Rivera of San Juan, Puerto Rico, munches on a roll-up sandwich as he fields questions and answers about political issues from the lively bunch.
"The main reason Bush should be re-elected is because he has made a commitment to national security like no other candidate has made," Rivera says.
For the next two hours, the CRs discuss the U.S. education system, government aid for the homeless, welfare, the class system in Europe, high taxes, labor unions, the United Nations, anti-war protests, the news media, local politics and the presidential race.
According to Rivera, about 850 students at Indiana University's Bloomington campus have registered as CR members -- out of a student body of more than 36,000. Rivera says they, along with College Democrats and other student political groups, participate in the political process for three basic reasons: to socialize, to influence student views on issues and to get out the vote.
Nationwide, College Republicans claim more than 120,000 members on 1,148 U.S. campuses, according to the group's Web site.
"Overall, across the country in the last five years, we've tripled in size, and a large chunk of that has come from the Midwest," says Mike Krueger, executive director of the College Republican National Committee in Washington.
But despite the group's growing numbers, self-described student conservatives are a campus minority nationwide.
Just 22.7 percent of U.S. college freshmen identified themselves as right wing or conservative in a national poll of more than 250,000 students released in January by the University of California, Los Angeles.
The survey said just 24.7 percent of students were self-described liberals. About half of those polled described themselves as "middle of the road."
"We are at the point where the middle of the road is the majority," says the survey's director, Associate Prof. Linda Sax. "To me that translates into apathy toward politics."
'I get lost'
Shivering in sub-zero temperatures outside IU's Ballantine Hall, sophomore Rebecca Hosier, at age 19, is finally eligible to vote in her first presidential election. But she says she probably won't cast a ballot this year because she's turned off by party politics.
"You have Democrats that fight with each other to get above," Hosier says. "You have Republicans who fight with each other to get somebody to represent [them], and somewhere in the middle I get lost in who believed what and then who said what."
IU political science professor Ted Carmines has been an observer of IU campus political activism for nearly 30 years.
IU political science professor Ted Carmines says many students see no personal benefits in political activism, and won't participate.
"Not many national issues seem to engage them, the war in Iraq a little bit," Carmines says. "There is some concern about the economy, anxiety about that."
Another issue that has sparked some student interest, Carmines says, is affirmative action programs aimed at prompting schools to enroll more minority students.
In the coffee shop, Rivera briefly expresses his opposition to affirmative action, shouting, "Affirmative action! [Supporters] will tell you, 'Oh, the racial divide is still too huge. Minorities are not making progress.' Well guess what? Minorities are still not making progress. And maybe [affirmative action is] not the answer."
IU in political 'middle-of-the-road'
Many residents of the mostly Republican Hoosier State may view IU as a liberal university, but compared to other Midwestern colleges, it leans politically moderate rather than conservative, according Carmines, a nearly 30-year observer of campus politics.
Indiana's electoral votes -- now numbering 11 -- have gone for the Republican presidential nominee every Election Day since 1968, posing a problem for the CRs' rival, IU College Democrats.
"Being in an area like Indiana, we are at a bit of a disadvantage," says IU College Democrats Vice President Peter Cheun. "Our main goal for this semester and through November is to get out the vote and try to make kids realize that this election matters." Cheun says more than 300 IU students are on the group's e-mail list.
The CRs also say they plan extensive get-out-the-vote initiatives.
IU College Republicans President Angel Rivera is a 21-year-old senior.
"We've done a lot of voter registration and a lot of get out the vote -- for example -- on Election Day, giving [voters] rides [to the polls], volunteering to work at the polls, because we really care about the political process," says IU College Republican Doug La Fave, 22, a senior from Grand Rapids, Michigan. "We like to give [voters] a message and facts and experience and let them make up their mind on their own."
Another CR, Zach Wendling, a 24-year-old graduate student from Noblesville, Indiana, is editor-in-chief of Hoosier Review -- a political Web site that takes on the campus newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student.
"We are rivals with them," Wendling says. "You find it at every college campus, kids are dissatisfied with their campus paper. And so we fill a niche in critiquing them and trying to supplement what they can't or won't cover."
Winning the battle
Jim Harper, a 20-year-old senior and former Daily Student political columnist from Valparaiso, Indiana, says students are deeply divided on their White House preferences.
"You're going to have a base of core activists on either side and they're going to be pretty involved," Harper says.
Rivera agrees, adding, "I really do believe the conservatives are winning the battle."
Meanwhile, amid the politicking for Bush, Rivera is waging his own personal political battle as vice presidential candidate in IU's election of student leaders.
"It's an awesome opportunity," Rivera says. "I mean, for a guy who's not from around here to have a very good chance of getting elected student body vice president, I think it speaks very highly to how diverse and welcoming Indiana University is."