Elder Bush big man on campus at Texas A&M
By Sonia Moghe
Special to CNN
Student correspondent Sonia Moghe laughs as she gets her picture taken with George H.W. Bush at an event on campus in November.
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 Sonia Moghe, an assistant editor at The Battalion, the student newspaper at Texas A&M University. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or Texas A&M University.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (CNN) -- Former President George H.W. Bush is a frequent visitor to Texas A&M University, but many students said his high visibility on the campus won't influence their decisions in the 2004 presidential election.
"I just saw [the former president] today," sophomore Lela Flores said after Bush and his wife, former first lady Barbara, made a February 17 appearance to promote her book "Reflections: Life After the White House."
"I feel that his constant visits to A&M just show his support for our campus," Flores added.
The father of the current president not only roams the campus, but he also has erected A&M's George Bush School of Government and Public Service, the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum and the Bush Foundation.
He lectures regularly at the Bush School, has attended every graduation ceremony since the school's opening and helps bring notable figures such as Secretary of State Colin Powell and Sen. Edward Kennedy to the campus.
But many students maintain the senior Bush's presence doesn't affect their political leanings.
"For the most part, students here already come from a conservative, middle-class, religious background," said junior Mark McCaig, communications director for the Young Conservatives of Texas at A&M. "But I don't think the Bush influence has anything to do with the political climate here."
Data from the 2000 election shows that 85 percent of Precinct 20, which contains a majority of college students, voted for George W. Bush, while 11 percent went for former Vice President Al Gore.
Senior Jon Steed, public information officer for the Texas Aggie Democrats, describes the campus as mostly apathetic but attributes students' politics to their backgrounds.
"I don't understand why [students] are so conservative," Steed said. "I think it's a combination of not being completely informed of the issues and living in an environment where the acceptable thing to do is be a Republican. It's a lot more popular to be a Republican in this state."
Junior Brad Coleman said, "I think one of the reasons that people are apathetic is because there aren't enough ways for people to go out and express their views."
Parents are a large influence on students, said sophomore Jeff Patton, who notes many people vote based on how their families do.
Support opens up opportunities
Although conservatives appear to be in the majority at the campus of about 41,000 students, Democrats are plentiful, too, Steed said.
"On one hand, it challenges [Democratic students] to stick up for what [they] believe in, but it can be frustrating sometimes," Steed admitted.
Junior Ryan Gosewehr said the younger Bush has a strong following, attributing it to good old A&M tradition.
Sonia Moghe is an assistant editor at The Battalion.
"I think [support for Bush] has to do with the sense of family among Aggies," Gosewehr said. "Traditions and social acceptance are important. If you have a real sense of family, you don't really talk about politics at the dinner table."
Flores is among those who said the senior Bush's contributions has an impact on them.
"If [Bush is] going on supporting us, why can't we return the favor and support [his son's campaign]," Flores said. "I don't think he comes here single-minded -- I think he comes here on goodwill. It's like he's a part of our family, and we should support family."
While no members of the Bush family have graduated from A&M, Roman Popadiuk, executive director for the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation, explained the appeal.
"[George H.W. Bush] felt welcome here," Popadiuk said. "He was very much struck by traditions of A&M such as the Corps of Cadets and academic tradition."
Students get to rub elbows with the former U.S. president, who is typically busy commuting back and forth between his Houston residence and his private apartment nestled within the Bush Center.
"[Bush] comes up [to A&M] on average two to three times a month," Popadiuk said. "He likes to take walks on campus and fish for bass in the pond near the Bush Center."
Senior Matt Josefy, A&M's student body president, said the former leader's involvement has a big impact on the school.
"[Bush] invites his friends to come visit him, and his friends just happen to be people like [former Soviet leader] Mikhail Gorbachev and the former chancellor of Germany," Josefy said. "[Bush] opens up opportunities for us that even Ivy Leagues don't have."