In primary's wake, Missouri students adjust
By Chris Blank
Special to CNN
Student correspondent Chris Blank stands next to one of the remaining columns from MU's original building.
Editor's note: Campus Vibe is a feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Chris Blank, staff writer at the Maneater, the independent student newspaper at the University of Missouri-Columbia. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the University of Missouri-Columbia.
COLUMBIA, Missouri (CNN) -- As the field of Democratic presidential hopefuls dwindles, Democratic student groups at the University of Missouri-Columbia are adjusting their approaches to the race.
Generation Dean and Reclaim America are still attempting to generate support for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, and some supporters of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina have shifted some of their focus toward supporting the Democratic Party as a whole. And supporters of retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut -- the latest Democrats to drop out of the running -- are now looking for new causes to back.
Members of the campus' Generation Dean organization said they remain optimistic, planning to meet at least through the end of February.
"Anything is always possible," said Glenn Rehn, a junior from Geneseo, Illinois. "If the media started attacking Kerry like they did to Dean, Dean would have a chance, but if things stay as there are now, I think it would be too hard to overcome the existing obstacles. The bandwagon effect makes it harder and harder to get back into the race."
Rehn said he believes Dean's uniqueness still gives him an outside chance to win the nomination.
"I think one of the biggest things with Dean was that his message was different," Rehn said. "He at least has given the Democratic Party the ability and the courage to stand up to Bush, and I will be pushing hard for whomever is nominated by the Democrats."
The group has grown to 50 members and was active leading up to the Missouri primary by organizing rallies on campus, distributing Dean information and registering voters.
Students for Edwards concentrated the bulk of their efforts on campus in giving students information about the North Carolina senator.
"We went to his event in St. Louis, had a table at [the student union] and went to the dorms to hand out literature," said freshman member John Andersen, of Abingdon, Illinois. "A lot of the students didn't care about the candidates and a lot didn't even know there was an election. There were a lot of people who did not know enough."
Andersen said the road to his backing of Edwards began through simple interest in the process.
"In mid-November I was reading all the headlines and began looking into the candidates, and I really turned onto Edwards," he said. "I went to his Web site, clicked on 'volunteer' and started e-mailing people in hopes of getting to help out."
Reclaim America also supported Dean. But some members said their focus now is in generating support for a candidate capable of beating President George W. Bush in November.
"I really wasn't a supporter of Dean; I was just trying to get the word out against Bush," said University of Missouri senior Kate Amburgey, of Cincinnati, and Reclaim America member. "When I spoke with people, I told the undecided people that this is one candidate and that they should check out the rest because it is really important to get Bush out of office."
Reacting to a changing landscape
Just as the mood of Dean supporters nationwide seems to have fluctuated as Dean jumped from an early lead to disappointing results in early primary and caucus states, the same can be said about the mood of Dean supporters on Missouri's campus.
"After the [Al] Gore endorsement, the media and the group began to think that the nomination was done," Rehn said. "I had been considering going to Iowa, but I really began to think that it might not be needed because it was all wrapped up. Iowa was a major blow, and we were obviously disappointed, but there was definitely a rebound in New Hampshire, and we worked as hard as we could in Missouri to get out the vote."
Still, the successes of the other candidates have not stunted the enthusiasm of many of the student volunteers who said they campaign as an opportunity create meaningful change they desire.
"The beauty of the process is the willingness of people to share opinions and solutions for the problems everyone in this country currently has to live with," Amburgey said.
"I really learned that when you sit down and talk to people about these key issues, you can have some really easy conversations," she said. "We're always told that you can't talk politics because it's all opinion and is only going to lead to arguments, but I learned that that really wasn't true. I found that people were really willing to learn from each other."
"As long as Edwards is there, I will campaign for him on the weekends," Andersen said. "But we need Bush out of there, and I would work for and support any Democrat."