With the 2016 general presidential election over a year away, student groups in support of candidates from both major parties are beginning to gain momentum on campus.
So far, several groups have created Facebook pages and held interest meetings to support their preferred candidates.
The group supporting Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a candidate in the Democrat primaries, stands out as the most vocally supported by Hoyas on social media. More than 350 people follow the “Georgetown for Bernie 2016” Facebook page. Caleb Weaver (SFS ’16), Irene Koo (COL ’16) and Erin Leonard (SFS ’16) run the Sanders group and regularly contribute to its page, promoting its events. (full disclosure: Koo is a community member of The Hoya’s editorial board).
Weaver said the group does not yet have a definite strategy.
“It’s a very organic kind of process,” Weaver said. “There’s not a lot of strategy to it. We try to keep it relevant to current events. … As we’ve started a little bit of activity on campus, we’ve used it to promote our events and meetings.”
Weaver added that members of “Georgetown for Bernie 2016” hope to increase their popularity on campus in the coming semester, and has already hosted several general interest meetings and a “Bernie Birthday Bash” fundraiser to celebrate the senator’s birthday earlier this month.
Weaver highlighted these gatherings as a way to both build awareness and identify students with expertise who can contribute to the group.
“Those events really helped us find people at Georgetown who are excited about Bernie and who have skills … in anything campaign-related that we could potentially use,” Weaver said.
Also on the Democratic side, “Hoyas for Hillary,” which supports former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is also active on campus and social media. It boasts more than 100 Facebook followers, the second-highest following among active Georgetown groups.
Amanda Shepherd (SFS ’18) founded the group this semester after interning in Clinton’s national headquarters in Brooklyn over the summer. She said the group aims to have an impact beyond campus as well.
“Because we are officially affiliated with the campaign, we can actually go out in the D.C. or the [D.C., Maryland, Virginia] area and do things like clip-boarding events and canvassing days that can really connect us to the larger voting base,” Shepherd said.
No other groups in support of other Democratic candidates have been formed at this time.
On the Republican side, no sizable Georgetown student groups have yet formed in support of anyone in the crowded primary field of over 15 candidates.
The most prominent so far, “Georgetown Students for Carly,” supporting former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, has 43 likes on its Facebook page.
Alexander Bobroske (SFS ’17), also a columnist for The Hoya, started the group as a subset of the national grassroots organization Carly for America. Bobroske said he has been interested Fiorina and her campaign since last year.
“We already have a core team of past and current [College Republican] board members on our core Georgetown team, but also a lot of College Republicans now view her in their top one or two candidates,” Bobroske said.
Bobroske added that “Georgetown Students for Carly” has also helped similar groups across the country gain momentum.
“A big thing we’re focusing on now is we’re all tapping into our personal networks from internships and from different places across the country to start recruiting chairs in to other states,” Bobroske said.“Just the other day I was setting up a team in North Dakota.”
Other Republican candidates that have organized support on campus include “Georgetown Students for Rand” supporting Rand Paul (R-Ky.) with 19 Facebook likes, and “Georgetown Students for Rubio” supporting Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), which currently runs a closed Facebook group for its eight members.
Georgetown University College Republicans Chair Amber Athey (COL ’16) said she believes pro-Republican groups will emerge stronger as the primary elections continue.
“I think you’ll see the groups grow in size as well as number once the number of candidates decreases,” Athey said. “I think when the candidate pool gets below 10, that’s when we’ll see a group for every remaining candidate.”
Bobroske said leaders of different campaign groups have also discussed organizing a presidential candidates exposition or debate among student campaigners.
“Students could come to one location and talk to our teams … so they can compare candidates and have someone tangibly there,” Bobroske said. “I think that’s something really good that all the campaigns seem excited about.”
Although several members of both Georgetown University College Democrats and College Republicans are involved in these groups, the organizations as a whole are not permitted to endorse specific candidates.
However, the university’s strict campus campaigning regulations could halt the growth of these organizations. As a tax-exempt organization, the university cannot use its resources to support any particular candidate. According to the restrictions, campaign groups may not use official student email addresses to send anything campaign-related, print any campaign-related material with university-owned printers or officially reserve space in a campus facility.
Weaver said he believes that these limitations could potentially hinder political participation on campus.
“The practical effect of those rules are really chilling for the ability to participate in politics on this campus,” Weaver said.
Despite these restrictions, Shepherd was still optimistic about balanced political engagement on campus.
“In general I think that this is a really interesting campus for political work,” Shepherd said. “There are a lot of campuses across the country that are sort of very right or very left and we aren’t. I think we really do have a big representation of all points of view.”