UF Democrats talk politics

University of Florida student Democrats and others share a laugh while waiting for the results of the New Hampshire primary Tuesday night at Greenwich Green apartments.

GREG UNDEEN/Special to The Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 at 1:25 a.m.

Jammed into a southwest Gainesville apartment, two dozen or so University of Florida student Democrats traded presidential candidate viewpoints between slices of pizza and political commentary on CNN as the precinct-by-precinct data for the New Hampshire primaries scrolled across the television screen Tuesday night.

They poked fun at the tri-color yellow, purple and teal rugby shirt worn by Democratic strategist James Carville, who was shown on TV in the Democratic war room. And from the mouths of these students, political analysis flowed as easily as those in the war room.

"It was a political mistake for (Wesley) Clark and (Joe) Lieberman to skip Iowa," said Joseph Bucceri, 19, of the retired Army general and Connecticut senator who decided not to campaign in Iowa before the caucuses last week.

Clark barely pulled out a third-place finish in New Hampshire; Lieberman, a distant fifth.

"(John) Edwards can't lose tonight," said James Argento, a law student, who believes the one-term North Carolina senator has done far better than anyone expected, even coming in fourth in New Hampshire.

It's unclear if they'll be able to transfer the enthusiasm to their fellow students - a group typically not known for a strong turnout during an election. In their favor is the fact that the presidential election tends to draw more voters to the polls.

The 2000 presidential election brought out about 40 percent more voters than the 2002 gubernatorial campaign in the Reitz Union precinct on campus. Still, of the registered voters there, only 54 percent of voters turned out compared to about 70 percent countywide.

Recent get-out-the-vote campaigns, however, are expected to boost some of the numbers, county Supervisor of Elections Beverly Hill said.

"I think we are looking at one of the biggest elections ever," Hill said. "I think there is a real push to get young folks out to vote this time."

Drumming up new voters wasn't on the students' minds Tuesday night. The primary was.

All of the Democratic presidential candidates had someone in the room rooting them on. Some were disappointed. Some were not.

Karen Harmel, organizer of the Gators for (Massachusetts Sen. John) Kerry campaign on campus, found herself in an unusual position.

At the Democratic State Convention in Orlando last month, Harmel was one of only a few Kerry supporters in the entire crowd.

But with Kerry's win in Iowa and a second win in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Harmel was surrounded by numerous converts.

Trumon Phillips, a public relations major, said he's got a sticker on the back of his car for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Yet, he openly donned a Kerry sticker.

"I'm officially jumping ship," Phillips said. "My vote is for anybody but (George) Bush in 2004. Kerry fits that best."

Duncan McRoberts doesn't see it that way. McRoberts, a philosophy and linguistics major, is sticking by Dean in good times and in bad. He's not quite sure why former Dean supporters are defecting.

"Ever since Iowa, everyone's been wearing Kerry stickers," McRoberts said.

Probably, the most anxious students of the group were those backing Clark. With no real gauge of support out of Iowa, Clark supporters like Chris Poynor were looking to New Hampshire for a boost.

For a while during the evening, Edwards and Clark fought it out for third.

"We need to start rallying here," Poynor said. "This is nerve-racking."

Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.

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