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Student Democrats look to expand numbers in Mo.

Sunday, February 25, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:59 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The MU Geology Building was buzzing Saturday morning with young, passionate, registered Democrats participating in the 2007 Missouri State Federation of College Democrats Convention.

About 30 students representing 18 of the 21 state chapters attended. Many of them have been involved in political campaigns and want to work in politics in the future.

[photo]

During the College Democrats’ annual convention in Keller Auditorium at MU on Saturday, Attorney General Jay Nixon speaks about current political issues and his plans to run for governor of Missouri in 2008. (LIANA CECIL Missourian)

“This year has been a significant year for us,” said Stephany Copeland, the outgoing president of the College Democrats of Missouri and a senior at St. Louis University. “We formed a PAC, fundraised over 20 grand since June and created a really amazing fundraising infrastructure.”

The College Democrats is a national organization that tries to register college students to vote and help elect Democrats. There are only 44 “due-paying members,” said Mark Buhrmester, the president of the MU chapter. The group organized 602 volunteers for Claire McCaskill’s campaign last semester.

Not discouraged by the glaring distinction between members and election time volunteers, the Missouri College Democrats hope to start new chapters throughout Missouri.

“We promised Chairman (Howard) Dean that by June 2008, we’d have a strong Democratic presence in every post high school institution in Missouri, and we are 90 percent there,” Copeland said.

The daylong convention included training sessions on event planning, fundraising, issue organizing and starting new chapters. The sessions were led by more experienced employees of the national College Democrats office in Washington, D.C.

In the afternoon, Attorney General Jay Nixon and Minority House Leader Jeff Harris addressed the students and answered questions. Both speakers attributed the success the Democratic Party had in November to the increase in youth involvement and stressed the importance of the upcoming elections in 2008.

“We are holding training sessions and starting new chapters in preparation for 2008,” said Nate Kennedy, the State Federation secretary who is running unopposed for president this weekend.

But they still have more work to do. According to U.S. census data from 2004, less than 50 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted. This statistic has led to the popularly held belief that young people are becoming more and more apathetic.

“The myth is generally probably true, and the biggest part of our job is eliminating the myth,” MU freshman Rick Puig said.

This year, the Missouri College Democrats begun organizing caucuses to bring single issue organizations into the network. They held informational sessions about caucus formation that focused on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, women’s issues and health sciences.

“Members can sign up for e-mails through the College Democrats, and we send them weekly e-mails about issues or upcoming events,” said Sam Hodge, the national director of communication for the GLBT Caucus and a political science and history major at Truman State University.

With the strengthening of the organizational infrastructure, the victory in November and the diversity in the Democratic presidential candidates, College Democrats have high hopes for the 2008 elections.

“I’ve never been so proud to be a Democrat ever,” Copeland said.


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