In the last days before the presidential election, Ohio seems to be the fulcrum on which the results will turn—rightward toward Romney or leftward toward Obama. A number of Ashbrook Scholars, well aware of Ohio’s pivotal role, have been working all fall to promote the result they deem best for the country. Many have spent seven or more hours a week in active campaigning. At the same time, Scholars have entered enthusiastically into the national debate the election prompts, applying to it their study of history and political philosophy.
Alex Jones manages important roles on campus: he’s a senior Scholar deep in his thesis work, an offensive tackle on Ashland University’s undefeated football team, and President of College Republicans. Yet he also travels to his hometown of Sandusky, Ohio three or four days a week to serve as Erie County Republican Party Chairman. He was elected to this responsibility last November, after a cordial debate with another contender. “What I could offer was my youth, energy, and vigor. It was a huge honor to win,” he said.
Now he facilitates the local campaigns of candidates for state and federal office, leading fundraising, and recommending how to allocate funds to the various races. He organizes local campaign events, poised for high gear should Romney make a Sandusky appearance. “In 2008, McCain came to Sandusky. We were given 48 hours notice and managed to get 5000 people to show up at a rally for him.” Jones was mentored in political work by his high school student government advisor, who was county Republican Party chair in that election cycle.
Back on the Ashland campus, Jones organizes student teams who canvass neighborhoods. “We’ve knocked on 5000 to 6000 doors in Ashland County, Richland County, some counties in southern Ohio, and Erie County,” he reports proudly.
September Long, a sophomore and secretary of the College Republicans, has pounded many of those neighborhood pavements. Long interned over the summer at the Romney Victory Center in Wadsworth, Ohio. This fall, the party official who supervised Long asked her to help get out the vote in Medina County, an area near Cleveland that is home to many of the independent voters targeted in this campaign season. Long’s group of College Republicans have worked the area, reminding registered voters to vote and helping those who need absentee ballots.
Junior Scholar Christopher Goffos interned last summer with the legislative aide to State Representative Dave Hall. “When I got back to campus, Hall asked me to help with his re-election effort. I’ve canvassed for him in parts of Ashland and Medina Counties. We go door to door, passing out Hall’s campaign literature, and also asking a survey question that helps the Romney presidential campaign: ‘Do you approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing as President?’ After each round, the data we collect gets used by the Romney campaign.”
Other current Scholars are working on a variety of campaigns from local races to the Presidential race.
There are Democrats among the Scholars as well. Sophomore Hannah Curtis is secretary of the Young Democrat club on campus. “We’ve been organizing a phone bank since the first of the year,” Hannah says. “We do canvassing locally, in Ashland County; I go home every weekend and canvass in Lake County, too.” Located northeast of Cleveland and next to Cuyahoga County, Lake County “has one of the state’s biggest percentages of undecided voters.” Young Democrats, like the College Republicans, have been working to get out the vote.
The presence of both Democrats and Republicans among the Scholars leads to educational collaboration. In early October the groups organized a “Crossfire” debate pitting two Ashbrook program professors, who spoke for Romney’s perspective, against two other AU professors who represented Obama’s views. “It was probably one of the best attended college-wide events since I’ve been here,” Jones said. The point, Curtis said, was “to bring information to students, especially to those who are independents or undecided.”
Each club had submitted three questions to be asked of the panel. While much of the debate centered on the national debt and economic policy, some social issues, like gay marriage and affirmative action, were also discussed. The last question was more philosophical and provoked a lively post-debate discussion: What is the purpose of government overall? Should it reach into ever larger areas of life, or should it exercise restricted power? “I think it sparked a lot of critical thinking among students,” Long commented.
These politically active Scholars quickly absorb the practical lessons of politics. Jones speaks fluidly of the electoral breakdown in Ohio, pointing out which areas usually vote Republican or Democrat. “College Republicans at AU are working to offset Cuyahoga County by canvassing Ashland County and other smaller, rural, traditionally red counties. If we can get every Republican to turn out to vote, we’re going to win this election.”
Goffos explains how the jobs situation in Ohio may affect the election outcome. Some national pundits say that new drilling for natural gas through “fracking” techniques may have, ironically, tilted Ohio toward the incumbent president by easing the unemployment burden in the state. But Goffos expects voters to give credit for energy industry growth to Republicans. Representative Dave Hall, who is Chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee of the House, helped push through “laws regulating drilling so as to protect workers and the environment.” While Democrats argued that “the solution was to ban fracking altogether, under Hall’s leadership, the state is making the industry safer and holding drillers accountable.”
Scholars, along with friends from around campus, gathered in the Ashbrook Center to watch the televised presidential debates and discuss them afterwards with professors who joined them. On election night they will convene there again, watching the returns with excited suspense.
Please join the Ashbrook Center on Tuesday November 6 for their Election Night Returns Party.