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Party schools, GOP style

College Republicans' focused efforts redefine recruitment of new members on campus.

October 20, 2004|Dana Calvo | Special to The Times

To protest affirmative action, the College Republicans chapter at University of Arizona at Tucson held a bake sale last year in which it charged customers different prices for the same cookie, depending on the students' race and gender.

White men were charged $1. White women were charged 50 cents, and Latinos and blacks were charged a quarter.

One of the College Republicans, or "CRs," sitting at the table was Adam Deguire, and as he watched media outlets and liberals react to the bake sales held on at least five campuses across the country -- including one of the most liberal, UC Berkeley -- he says he realized he was aligned with the sharpest political group on campus.

In fact, the bake sales were so well executed, in Deguire's opinion, that he took this semester off to work as a CR field representative, a paid position that puts him on the front lines of the new expanded CR strategy to recruit students.

No, he's not a white guy in a blue blazer going door to door.

Deguire is a 21-year-old Mexican American who has spent the past week walking around the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque carrying a life-size cardboard cutout of the president and making a pitch that the Republican Party is for people who look just like himself. Deguire says he has established five new chapters in the battleground state of New Mexico with his presidential cutout.

"The goal is to get people to come to you, so you don't have to find them," Deguire said. "You'd be surprised how many people come up to me. The common knowledge is that he [Bush] wouldn't be well received. That's not true."

The College Republican National Committee is an independent political organization prohibited from coordinating with the Bush campaign or the national GOP. The CR status as an independent political group -- known as a "527" -- enables it to use money that comes in from fundraising for a variety of purposes, including supporting the national headquarters in Washington, D.C., which is staffed full time by 74 college graduates. For them, the College Republicans is not a club, it's a job.

The College Democrats, by contrast, are tied to the Democratic National Committee, so restrictions on federal money apply; for example, the College Dems can't use it to support the national headquarters. Thus they remain the same freewheeling and decentralized group they were 20 years ago. The group is run entirely by current college students, according to its president, Grant Woodard, who attends Grinnell College in Iowa.

"We run off of e-mails, free cellphone minutes, instant messages," Woodard said on his cellphone last Thursday, as he rushed to a midterm exam. "The Republicans have been throwing money at college campuses since the 1980s. We haven't had to do that. We have a very good organization, despite the fact that we don't have 60 field representatives. I'm a college student. I'm taking 18 credit hours. It's a different approach. We're a truly student-run organization. But they're trying to play catch-up."

Experts say they're doing a good job.

Focused recruitment

College Republicans are redefining the campus recruitment game with a well organized, focused effort. Since 1999, a low point for College Republicans, membership has tripled, and there is an organized CR presence on 1,265 campuses, according to the group's elected chairman, Eric Hoplin.

At the same time, College Democrats are active on only 1,150 campuses.

Bill Galston, interim dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland at College Park and the founding director of CIRCLE (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement), says that over the past 30 years the Republicans proved they were hungrier than the Democrats for the young vote.

"I'm a Democrat," Galston said. "But conservatives have made major organizational and material investments. So they've created newspapers and magazines and journals of opinion across the country, and those have become training grounds for conservative intellectuals and operatives. The results," he said, "speak for themselves."

Deguire is one of the 60 CR field representatives who work for 11 weeks between Labor Day and Election Day. Field reps receive a $2,000 stipend, lodging, food, gas and a cellphone. And the new Dell Latitude 100L laptop issued to them is theirs to keep after the election.

"Republicans tend to be inherently more organized than Democrats. The Democratic Party has always been a looser coalition of disparate groups that don't necessarily have a whole lot in common. They've had less of an ideological focus than Republicans had," said Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University. "Republicans have more money, and they get more financial support from outside. Republicans feel like they have to be more organized, because on most college campuses, they're outnumbered."

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