Bush, Kerry focus on Florida, students
By Dwayne Robinson
Special to CNN
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 Dwayne Robinson, student writer at The Alligator, the University of Florida independent student newspaper. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the University of Florida.
See more work by Dwayne Robinson and his colleagues online at The Alligator
GAINESVILLE, Florida (CNN) -- Opinion polls indicate more young voters plan to vote in the 2004 presidential election than did in the 2000 election, when only a half-million votes stood between Al Gore and George W. Bush.
Democrats and Republicans seem to be taking notice as they try to reach out to the age group that tends to vote the least of all.
Going after young voters, President Bush and his presumptive challenger, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, held events in Florida recently that attracted thousands of Floridians, college students included.
University of Florida College Democrats chairwoman Ketsia Julmeus said it's a good move for the presidential candidates to reach out directly to students.
"If students see the candidates, then they'll see that politicians do care about them and that politicians do want them to vote," said Julmeus, a political science senior.
Kerry stopped at two Florida campuses last week -- the University of Miami and Palm Beach Community College.
Jason Haber, a 23-year-old U.M. graduate student who attended the Miami rally on April 18, said Kerry's speech was typical of what he says on television -- but Kerry the man was a surprise.
"The first thing I thought [was] 'This doesn't sound like the same I guy I see on TV," Haber said. On television, Kerry seems monotone and boring, he said.
"Speaking in person, he's a total opposite than on television," Haber said, noting also Kerry's sense of humor. "He's a lot more animated."
Kerry launched a college campus tour in mid-April to attract young voters, but it's a gamble that reaching out face-to-face with students will influence their vote.
But 18-year-old Johnny Yanchunis says he was impressed.
Yanchunis, who will attend U.F. this fall as an engineering major, heard Kerry speak on April 20 at a fund-raising event in Tampa.
"I kind of didn't know who I wanted to vote for now that I'm old enough to vote," he said. "But coming here and hearing this kind of sealed the fate for me possibly voting for him [Kerry]. But I do like Bush."
Yanchunis said he was pleased with Kerry's speech and the fact that he didn't read from a teleprompter. And, like Haber, he said he noticed Kerry's personal characteristics, which don't come across on T.V.
Passing the sweat test
"It wasn't sweaty," Yanchunis said about shaking the Massachusetts senator's hand. "It wasn't nervous or anything. He was confident."
"And he was tall -- that's always important," he jokingly added.
Over a month earlier, Bush kicked off his re-election campaign in Orlando, Florida, but unlike Kerry, he has yet to visit a college campus in the Sunshine State.
Ashlee Black, a philosophy and political science sophomore at U.F., took part in the Bush rally at Orlando's Orange County Convention Center on March 20 with about 40 other U.F. College Republicans.
Student correspondent Dwayne Robinson reads his student newspaper in front of statues of U.F.'s mascots, Albert and Alberta.
"It was just electric," she said describing the "once in a lifetime event.... It was crazy. A lot of us were crying when he came."
She said seeing the president in person for the first time made her admire him even more.
"I'm very much invested in him," Black said. "I think a lot of it is I'm young and this is my first president to get involved with and get active with."
U.F. College Republicans Chairman Hunter Williams said he was more confident in his decision to vote for Bush after attending the rally.
"When the president entered the room, it was about as loud as The Swamp on game day," he said referring to the home of U.F. football, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.