Bush targets campus fan base as JFK gains votes

September 10, 2004

University Republicans have chosen not to join traditional non-partisan student voter recruiting drives leading up to the American presidential election because of Democrat John Kerry's lead over George W. Bush in student polling.

The College Republicans and College Democrats of America have previously teamed up on voter registration drives.

But with President Bush trailing Senator Kerry among university students by 10 to 20 percentage points in independent polls, the young Republicans instead plan to target students who already plan to vote for Bush and encourage them to go to the polls.

The young Democrats are working to recruit 100,000 volunteers whose job it will be to turn out 1 million Democratic voters on and off campus.

"This is an unprecedented effort by both parties to win the votes of college students," said Eric Hoplin, chairman of the College Republicans.

After the 2000 election, he said: "Students know that every vote matters."

Four years ago, Mr Bush and his rival, Al Gore, split the 18 to 29-year-old vote about evenly. The war in Iraq and other issues have pushed students towards Kerry in this race, according to the polls.

"Every election is about the future, and students share Senator Kerry's belief that America can do better," said Grant Woodard, president of the College Democrats of America. The question is whether this will translate into votes. Only about 18 million of the 48 million eligible voters under 30 cast a ballot in 2000.

Mr Bush briefly referred to higher education in his acceptance speech at the Republican Party convention in New York City. "By raising performance in our high schools, and expanding Pell grants [means-tested federal grants] for low and middle-income families, we will help more Americans start their career with a college diploma," he said.

Senator Kerry has promised to simplify the student aid application, to allow many students to apply for college on a postcard rather than by filling out complex forms, and to offer tax credit of up to $4,000 (£2,235) of tuition for four years of college.

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