For our series First and Main, Morning Edition is traveling to contested counties in swing states to find out what is shaping voters' decisions this election season. The latest trip took us to Larimer County, Colo.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't have any memories of the presidential election that took place while I was in college. It was my freshman year, and President Clinton was running for re-election against former Republican Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas. Clinton won, in case you've forgotten.
It's not that I could have voted — my 18th birthday wasn't for another week or so. But I don't even remember being aware that there was an election going on — which is a far cry from the five students we spent time with on the Colorado State University campus in Fort Collins. Granted, they're all political science majors. But they're following their candidates' positions and policies closely, and weren't at all shy about sharing their opinions on presidential politics.
We sat down with these students — Democrats, Republicans and a libertarian — around a table in a seminar classroom in CSU's Political Science Department on a rainy September morning.
The two Republicans — Rachel Drechsler and Tyler Marr — were going to a campaign event later that morning for GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Because she was giving an introductory speech at the rally, Drechsler was dressed for the part, wearing a skirt and jacket and a pair of hot-pink heels. Both she and Marr seemed very enthusiastic about the Romney/Ryan ticket.
On the other side of the table were the two Democrats, Abby Harder and Carol Kennedy. While both say they believe that President Obama is still the best candidate, they admitted that they aren't as excited about him as they were in 2008 (even though only Harder was old enough to vote at that point).
Rounding out the group was Justin Rampy, the sole libertarian in the room. He's a Ron Paul supporter who said he hopes to send a message to both parties.
"To say that I'm not going to vote Republican or Democrat tells both parties that there are voters like me out there who are fed up voting for either party," he said.
Among the topics that came up was the increasing cost of education. Both Harder and Marr said they have smaller loans to supplement financial help they've received from their families. Of the five, only Rampy had significant student loan debt — which, as he pointed out, is a big burden to have when just entering the workforce.
Despite disagreements on how the rising cost of education should be addressed, all five students saw it as a problem — but not one that played a big role for them in this election.
The issue of women's rights also came up in discussion, and the majority of the students came down in favor of abortion rights. Drechsler recognized that her stance differed from that of her party's, but she said she felt that more important than the issue of abortion was making sure the economic needs of women are being met.
"I want a better future for my kids and for their kids and for everyone in America," she said. "And I think the way we're headed, that's not going to be the case. And so I think, as a woman, I just want to make sure that our well-being is taken care of."
In fact, the economy seemed to be the issue of most concern to all of the students. They were keenly aware that the current job market isn't a good one for newly minted college graduates, and they expressed worry over the size of the deficit.
Unsurprisingly, the Democrats and the Republicans stuck close to party lines on this subject. But while it's not the only issue they're voting on, it's certainly the one most prominent in their minds right now.
You can hear much more from our conversation with the CSU students on Morning Edition. Click on "Listen to the Story" above.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
We've been travelling to swing states this year to listen in on what voters are thinking. It's a series we're calling First and Main, after the name of the intersection where we began. It's the intersection of politics and real life. And this morning we return to Colorado to hear from young voters.
MONTAGNE: It was a rainy day on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins when I visited. Gathered in a classroom around a long wooden table were five political science majors.
TYLER MARR: Students in general seem very excited about this election. I think we'll get a very good turnout.
CAROL KENNEDY: I think some people get irritated just because we do live in a swing state and they're tired of all the negative campaigning. But in general I think people will still vote.
MONTAGNE: That was Carol Kennedy, who's a Democrat, and Tyler Marr, a Republican. We'll be hearing in a moment from two more students - one Democrat, one Republican. Also in the group: Justin Rampy, who's enthusiastic about voting, even though his candidate won't win.
So you've made up your mind to support...
JUSTIN RAMPY: Ron Paul.
MONTAGNE: When you talk about a third party candidate in this tight swing state like Colorado, you really are talking about a vote that counts a bit more than anybody else's vote. Does that weigh, you know, at all on you when you're thinking about that?
RAMPY: Absolutely. And in fact it's a large motivation for my choosing to vote for Ron Paul. To say that I'm not going to vote Republican or Democrat tells both parties that there are voters like me out there who are fed up voting for either party. And so that sends a message.
MONTAGNE: As it happens, Justin Rampy didn't come by his beliefs from his parents. He describes his mother as a member of the Christian right and his father the Tea Party.
Another student in our group who thinks differently from her parents is Rachel Drechsler. She's so active in the Republican Party, she's all dressed up this morning for a speech she's giving at one of Paul Ryan's campaign stops.
RACHEL DRECHSLER: Neither of my parents have ever really been one side or the other, and I'm actually the one now talking to them about politics, saying, OK, here are the issues and here's what I think you need to be concerned about. And this is why I think you should vote for Romney. But I think my most important issue in this election is the economy.
MONTAGNE: I'm guessing as younger voters you feel the weight of a deficit that could go on for years and years.
MARR: Yeah, I mean I think - Tyler here - I think when you look at the debt, I mean it's over $16 trillion now. I wouldn't say we're in as dire trouble as Greece, but we're heading that direction. And I think we really need to, you know, adjust course. And I think out of these two candidates, Mitt Romney seems to understand that better.
MONTAGNE: What is a selling point for you among the mix of things that Romney would bring to the presidency?
DRECHSLER: This is Rachel. I think having an MBA and running a profitable company. Also I think you're able to make decisions that as a leader of the country you're able to create jobs, you're able to understand what actually needs to be done in order to make our country profitable. I think that Mitt Romney has the ability to do that.
MONTAGNE: When you compare what a CEO has to work with - that is to say it's a top-down organization, as a rule the CEO comes in, he hires and fires more or less at will. A president, on the other hand, is answering to or depends on a powerful and in recent years a hostile Congress that can thwart virtually every idea he has. So where does the CEO experience fit into the actual day-to-day experience of running a government. Tyler?
MARR: That's where you have to look at his service in the public sector as Governor of Massachusetts. I mean he worked with a legislature in Massachusetts that was not overly friendly to Governor Romney.
MONTAGNE: Although he had different positions then. So they were very much friendlier to a man who was pro-choice and was creating health care for all in Massachusetts.
MARR: Absolutely. I understand what you're saying. As far as the CEO expertise is concerned, it's not the same experience but the same skill sets are required in both as far as leadership, problem solving, efficiency. I mean we would all agree, I think, that the federal government has some work to do in the efficiency department.
MONTAGNE: All right. So next I put it to the Democrats at the table. What makes you support your candidate?
President Obama came in riding on high hopes and promising big change. Are you disappointed in what he was able to do?
ABBY HARDER: Abby Harder here. In a lot of ways, I think, you know, that's true. The president came in on a huge wave of hope and optimism. But it kind of boils down to who do you think is going to do a better job moving forward. And for me that's still Obama. I don't think that - I don't think that Mitt Romney represents my interests.
MONTAGNE: But what would be your interest that he doesn't represent?
HARDER: Women's issues are very important to me, first of all. The economy is very important to me. And, you know, I'm a senior this year. I'll be entering the job market and that's definitely a huge concern. Coming from a middle class family whose parents pay a higher tax rate than Mitt Romney, I find his tax plan extremely troubling.
MONTAGNE: His tax plan being?
HARDER: Cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans, extending Bush-era tax cuts. You know, we spoke about the deficit earlier. And to me the way to reduce the deficit is both by raising taxes on those who can afford to pay a little bit more and by cutting spending, and I think that that's Barack Obama's plan.
RAMPY: Justin here. We've been talking back and forth about the positions that the two parties take in this election. And the reason why I'm so drawn to Ron Paul is because his stance as a politician is - I'm not going to garner support from anybody. I'm going to do the things the way I think that they need to be done. And his views on the economy are some of the most intelligent of any candidate in the past 30 years, in my opinion. And to me, I get the sense that he's the only one who truly understands, because he spent more time in government than either of these two candidates by far.
MONTAGNE: And that's a good thing?
RAMPY: Absolutely. And that's not always the case. That's not always the case. It takes a strong personality to be able to keep your values when you spend so much time in government.
MONTAGNE: Let me - I can see Rachel gather. So I'm worried that we're going to lose the two of you. Let me just quickly women's issues, these candidates have very stands.
DRECHSLER: Absolutely. Yeah. So this is Rachel. I think it's important also to add, I'm a women's studies minor, actually so I've spent the last three and a half years, I guess, at this point, studying this and going over it over and over in my head. And I think the most important thing at this very moment in time is our economy, and I want a better future for my kids and for their kids, and for everyone in America. And I think the way we're headed, that's not going to be the case. And so I think as a woman I just want to make sure that our well-being is taken care of.
MONTAGNE: So, I initially asked you about women's issues.
MONTAGNE: And you moved straight to the economy. Are you so focused on the economy and so believe that Mitt Romney is the right candidate for that, that you are not, or are in step with his positions on abortion?
DRECHSLER: So I think it's very important to make this clear. The president doesn't have the ability to take away a women's right to abortion. That's up to the Supreme Court, and at the end of the day they're the one that says, yeah, this is constitutional or it's not.
MONTAGNE: Well, are you pro-choice?
DRECHSLER: I am, actually pro-choice, which is different - I think - from a lot of conservatives. But I'm not concerned about it.
MONTAGNE: And the two Democratic students across the table?
HARDER: Abby here. You know, I think it's a little bit naive to think that just, you know, that the president doesn't affect policy on women's rights. You know, he, a president could potentially appoint a Supreme Court justice, the leader of his party and affects the agenda in Congress. And so I think it's a very important issue. I don't think it's something that can be ignored.
KENNEDY: This is Carol Kennedy. I think that that issue plays a role but I think it's a mistake to only vote on one issue on either side.
MONTAGNE: So we've just heard from five students supporting three different candidates - all committed to the political process. In fact, Rachel and Tyler had to rush out early to kick off a political rally.
DRECHSLER: Well, hello, Fort Collins. How are you all doing today?
MONTAGNE: Tomorrow in our series First and Main, Latino voters. They stand to make the difference in who wins this year in Colorado.
DRECHSLER: I'm Rachel Drechsler. I'm the treasurer for the College Republicans at CSU, and I'm also a senior this year.
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