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Politics Come Alive on UT Campus

Published: October 02, 2008
As John McCain and Barack Obama crisscross the country campaigning, their supporters at The University of Tampa are echoing the candidates’ messages on campus and in the community. 

With every election year, the heightened political climate enlivens UT’s political groups, which include the College Democrats, College Republicans and the newly created UTampa Libertarians. This year is no different, as the groups are raising awareness of the candidates as well as the political process as a whole.

“Our prime goal is not just to get Barack Obama elected president,” said Christopher Brown, a senior and president of the UT College Democrats. “It’s sustainability. It’s bringing students to events and making sure they’re concerned about their future and not just getting one man elected.”

College Republican Chairwoman Katrina Castillo, also a senior, echoed these sentiments, saying the election is just as much about John McCain as it is supporting local candidates and spreading the Republican message.

“Every four years you get an influx in members because there is a revised interested in politics,” Castillo said. “But especially this year there is a lot of interest among our age group.”

Enrolling at UT last year as a transfer student, Brown was at first hesitant to get involved with the College Democrats when a friend first invited him to the group. Less than a year later, he was elected the group’s president.

Brown said one of the group’s main goals this year is to recruit 538 new members of College Democrats – 537 being the number of votes by which Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore lost the state of Florida in the 2000 election. On Sept. 24, the Democrats held a “Barack the Vote” event in the Vaughn Center Plaza – an event to which Brown invited the College Republicans to protest.

“I’m a strong bipartisan guy,” said Brown, who is pursuing a degree in government and world affairs. “I don’t want to just preach to the choir because that’s just a waste of everyone’s time.”

For Castillo, also a government and world affairs major, boosting membership and getting students involved in the grassroots efforts of the Republican Party have been enduring goals since she was first elected chairwoman in 2006. Her involvement in the group was also a steppingstone that led to her election as treasurer of the Florida Federation of College Republicans and the Tampa Bay regional co-director of Students for McCain.

“We want to spread the message that Obama is not the only candidate supported by the college age bracket,” Castillo said.
In addition to campaign events, student volunteers assist with phone banking and door-to-door walks with the local Republican Party in order to spread the word about their candidates.

“It’s how we get not only our national figures elected, but also our local figures,” Castillo said. Locally, the group is promoting the reelection of Gus Bilirakis, the U.S. congressman representing Florida’s 9th district.

The College Democrats and College Republicans came head-to-head Sept. 25 for a debate in Plant Hall’s Fletcher Lounge. A team of four panelists from both groups defended their respective candidate’s position on a variety of issues, including homeland security, the economy, civil rights and energy policy.

In the midst of the battle between the two main political groups, a third group catering to young libertarians has also emerged this semester. The UTampa Libertarians, started by senior Paul Lotierzo, seeks to promote ideas such as limited government and individual liberty, rather than the election of a particular candidate.

“A lot of people seem to want to get involved, but they have no idea what libertarianism is,” Lotierzo said. “I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, especially from faculty. I think a lot of people are just fed up with the political system.”

In forming the group, Lotierzo has sought to build partnerships with organizations like the CATO Institute – a Libertarian think tank – in order to build the group’s credibility.

“It seems like there really isn’t much choice for people out there,” Lotierzo said. “What we try to do is educate students and the local community about the other options besides the Democrats and Republicans.”