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MIT Students Participate In Primary Campaigns

By Laura McGrath Moulton

Conventional wisdom says that George W. Bush and Al Gore are likely to be the big winners in tomorrow’s Super Tuesday primaries.

Here at MIT, students are out to prove conventional wisdom wrong. Many are organizing in support of underdogs Bill Bradley and John McCain, offering Gore only lukewarm support and in general ignoring Bush.

“Most students here have eschewed the establishment candidates,” said Christopher D. Smith ’01, Bradley supporter and treasurer of the MIT College Democrats.

In preparation for today’s primary, the College Democrats will have booths in Lobby 10 and the Student Center. Smith said that Bradley supporters will go to Cambridge polling locations to hold signs and pass out campaign literature.

McCain supporters are planning to organize an event on the steps of 77 Massachusetts Avenue tomorrow, said Eric J. Cholankeril ’02, coordinator for MIT Students for McCain 2000.

Smith said that sincerity and an intellectual side are behind the appeal of Bradley and McCain. “You’ve got these two genuine, thinking people,” Smith said.

McCain attracts newcomers

MIT’s chapter of College Republicans is currently inactive. Former College Republicans officer Jonathan K. Lie G said he was not aware of any “Students for Bush group,” a sentiment echoed across this heavily Democratic campus.

However, the campaign of John McCain has captured the imagination of a number of students.

“I have always followed politics closely, but never before have I had so much enthusiasm for any candidate for public office” as I do for McCain, said Cholankeril.

He said the group is “similar to organizations that have sprung up at universities across the country as more and more young people have been inspired by McCain’s reform-minded message.”

McCain’s use of volunteers and the Internet makes his campaign accessible to students. “I myself first got involved by signing up on the website <>,” Cholankeril said.

Jimmy C. Wu ’01, a member of MIT Students for McCain 2000, said he was first drawn to the Arizona senator by a Reader’s Digest article two years ago. When he heard about the MIT group through a general e-mail from Cholankeril, he quickly joined.

McCain “is willing to speak his mind, even going against his own party,” Wu said.

Democrats vote for McCain

Cholankeril said the group has “been focused on turning out the vote” for the primary tomorrow by getting students to register and also, following a state and national trend, by getting students to change their party identification to make them eligible to vote for McCain.

McCain’s unexpected appeal to Democrats and Independents has been one of the most unusual aspects of this campaign and the source of many of McCain’s victories.

“Senator McCain appeals to voters across the spectrum, and over 30,000 Democrats across the state of Massachusetts were able to switch their party affiliation in time,” Cholankeril said. He said his group alone had “helped over 150 people register or change their affiliation.”

Other activities, such as waving signs at subway stops and political events, have focused on “visibility,” Cholankeril said.

Many McCain supporters wouldn’t support for the other Republican candidate, George W. Bush, should he win the nomination.

“I’d rather vote for Al Gore than Bush. My pecking order is McCain, Al Gore, Bill Bradley, and then Bush,” Wu said.

Bradley, Gore campaigns strong

Among Democrats on campus, both Bradley and Gore have excited support.

“The reaction has been positive for Bradley,” Smith said. Even professors have told him, “Hey, Bradley is my guy.”

Smith said that Bradley’s visit to the MIT campus last fall as well as his intellectual stature as a former Rhodes Scholar have helped his reputation here.

However, Aaron B. Strauss ’02, co-president of MIT College Democrats and campus organizer for the Gore campaign, was not optimistic about Bradley’s chances in the nation.

“Bradley has zero momentum right now,” Strauss said, predicting a huge Gore victory tomorrow.

Democratic activism on campus

Both Bradley and Gore supporters have been working on getting students registered and reminding them to vote as well as taking part in sign-waving around Boston and Cambridge.

Smith said that this year’s campaign is inspiring more enthusiasm than previous ones had.

“I am definitely more interested in this [campaign] than in the Clinton/Dole” contest of 1996, Smith said, noting that the element of contest and suspense is real this year.

Strauss said that few MIT students had time to worry about the primary, however.

“This is MIT, so it’s politically apathetic,” Strauss said. However, he said he foresees “a huge absentee ballot drive in the fall [allowing students to vote in the home states] since the House is almost certainly up for grabs.”

Strauss said, “You’ll find that a lot of people [at MIT] are cynical” about organized politics, “but will go for specific issues not tacked on to a party.”

He urged students to consider working for a campaign.