W&L’s Republicans and Democrats prepare for presidential election

Students engage in campaigns with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Courtney Knight

With the 2016 presidential election fast approaching, the College Republicans and College Democrats are both backing their parties’ candidates amidst a climate of pandemic low favorability ratings.

The often polarizing reputations of Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton have posed challenges for the W&L political clubs, but both groups are still encouraging students to engage in the campaigns.

“There is an enthusiasm gap this election [and] we are not getting the numbers we expected for meetings,” said Caroline Bones, ’18, co-president of the College Republicans. “There are more unhappy people this election, on both sides of the aisle.”

The College Democrats have focused their efforts on hosting viewing parties for the presidential debates in Washington and Lee’s Hillel House and are continuously working to get W&L students registered to vote. The group also hosts discussion-style group meetings every Thursday to encourage political discourse.

Rossella Gabriele, ‘19, outreach chair for College Democrats, said the group is working to attract more students and raise awareness about not just the presidential race, but the congressional campaign for Virginia’s 6th district.

“We’re trying to get students more involved in politics, so we’re working with the Democratic headquarters here in Lexington to get students to phone bank and canvass for the coordinated Democratic campaign for Hillary Clinton and Kai Degner locally,” Gabriele said.

The College Republicans are making similar efforts, such as hosting information meetings that address current polling information and election statistics.

Student leaders say the passing of Mock Convention in February 2016 has caused a lag in student political interest and participation on campus. Since so many W&L students get involved in Mock Con, Bones said many students consider it their sole involvement in politics during their college careers.

“Everything is secondary to Mock Con on our campus,” Bones said. “It’s a challenge to get people excited.”

Republicans and Democrats alike hope to address the absence to of enthusiasm by hosting a student-run debate about national issues in the near future. “Last year I participated in the debate and can attest to the great discourse that resulted from it, so I’m really looking forward to continuing this new tradition this year!” Gabriele said.