University of Richmond students caught Potomac Fever this week in anticipation for Tuesday's primary presidential elections, with several speakers visiting campus to discuss the power of the youth vote while encouraging students to make their impact during the primaries.
Tuesday's elections in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia caught the nation's attention, particularly the immense importance they would have in the race for the Democratic presidential bid.
Sen. Barack Obama handily defeated Sen. Hillary Clinton in all three of Tuesday's primaries and Sen. John McCain took all three Republican primaries.
Political strategist Donna Brazile spoke to students, faculty and community members Monday night in Jepson Hall and called Tuesday's elections "an opportunity we cannot pass up." Judging by the record turnouts at the polls on Tuesday, her message came across loud and clear.
"This is an opportunity that many of us have waited our entire lifetime for," Brazile said, referring to the chance to have a minority or a woman elected president. "It is an opportunity to change the history."
Brazile's confident and entertaining demeanor during her hour-long speech seemed to impress the crowd nearly as much as her more than 30 years in the political spectrum has. The Louisiana native has shown a knack for politics since she skipped her own high school prom in order to attend a Jimmy Carter campaign event in the French Quarter in the 1970s.
Since then, Brazile has worked on many national and statewide campaigns, including the presidential campaigns of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1984 and the Clinton-Gore campaigns in 1992 and 1996. In 2000, she became the first African-American to lead a major presidential campaign when she served as campaign manager for Gore-Lieberman 2000.
Brazile currently serves as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She is also a political commentator on CNN's "Inside Politics" and "American Morning," a columnist for the "Roll Call Newspaper" and a contributor to "Ms. Magazine."
Growing up as one of nine children in New Orleans, Brazile said she dreamed of a day when the nation would have the opportunity "to break wide-open freedom's gate" like the United States has done during the 2008 election. "I never thought I would see this day," she said. "And it is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined."
Brazile is one of 796 so-called Superdelegates -- Democratic Party insiders who could be called upon to nominate either Obama or Clinton if neither candidate captures the required 2,025 delegates to win the nomination. Superdelegates are so far strongly supporting Clinton, media polls suggest. Republicans do not use superdelegates during their nominating process.
Brazile acknowledged there would be challenges between now and November, but in a country that has come this far, she said it is not unrealistic to think either Clinton or Obama would be in the White House in January.
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"They will doubt that this is the moment, and they will resist this progress with claims that America is not ready to elect its first female or minority president," she said. "Well, would you please join me in asking them to step aside? Because it's time for this moment to happen."
A similar call for change echoed through the Tyler Haynes Commons on Saturday afternoon, when more than 200 students filled the Pier to listen to an unlikely pair of speakers endorse Obama's shot at the presidency.
Actor Kal Penn and Nat Kaine, son of Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine, headlined the Virginia leg of the Students for Barack Obama college tour, highlighting the candidate's grassroots campaign movement and his well-publicized vision for change. Making analogies to both John F. Kennedy and Mohandas Gandhi, Penn said today's generation had a unique chance to usher in a similarly revolutionary figure into the White House.
"We are at a very rare point in American history where we have the opportunity to elect a true statesman to be our president for the next eight years," Penn said. "I hope that you'll join our movement for change."
Penn and Kaine, who met for the first time Saturday morning, both serve as surrogates and volunteers on the Obama campaign and have each devoted a great deal of hours phone-banking and knocking on doors promoting the candidate, they said. They had already visited George Mason University and the University of Virginia earlier Saturday, spreading a similar message about a candidate whose popularity they said transcends any one particular political issue.
"His integrity and experience really overrides all of the other issues," Kaine said of Obama. "It's his inspirational ability that ultimately makes me want to vote for him."
Penn first learned of Obama during the senator's keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, saying he had been enthralled by Obama ever since.
"When he was done [speaking], I thought 'When is this guy going to be president?'" he told the audience. "I guess I'm not the only one who had that idea."
Students likely know the 30-year-old Penn best for his 2004 breakout film "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle." Last year, he appeared on the television series "24," currently appears on the medical drama "House," and this spring, he will teach Asian-American studies as a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
After realizing the privilege he has as a result of his movies and television shows, Penn decided he wanted to give back to his country, and in October, decided to volunteer for the Obama campaign, he said. He helped build support for Obama by volunteering in Iowa for a month and a half before doing surrogate work in Louisiana, South Carolina and Nevada. Although Penn said his surge for political activism conveniently overlapped with his unemployment resulting from the Hollywood writer's strike, he was recently offered roles in films that had been written before the strike began, but he said he turned the opportunities down to continue his work on the campaign.
Kaine, who registered to vote when he turned 18 just a little more than a month ago, emphasized that his father's gubernatorial status did not elevate his importance to a level above the students in the audience but instead underscored that all members of the young voter generation shared a common political significance.
"I'm not important because of who I'm related to," he said. "I'm important because, like you all, I'm young."
Sophomore Pat Halpin, who helped organize the event, said many students approached him after the speech asking for Obama posters and bumper stickers and said the University of Richmond Students for Barack Obama Facebook group increased by nearly 100 members during the past week.
"Young people are more of a player in politics than they have ever been," Halpin said. "[They] should use that political power to get involved in the grassroots movement for Senator Obama."
Unlike Penn and Kaine, Brazile did not endorse either Obama or Clinton, saying that both candidates were equally powerful and qualified. But her message regarding the importance of the youth vote was one similar to the pair of speakers.
"I've always believed in the people, the power of the people and the ability of every voter to participate in the political process," she said before citing statistics of higher youth voter turnouts in primaries around the country. With about 974,000 Democrats voting in Virginia Tuesday, another state proved eager to participate in the opportunity to elect a woman or a minority president, and the change in history Brazile advocated Monday night seemed to be even closer to a reality.
"America may or may not be ready," she said. "But we are"
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