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Rand Paul and the College Vote

Posted: October 22, 2015 | By: Bri Steirer Tagged: From the Campaign Trail

How does a fringe candidate with an anti-government agenda and questionable social skills appeal to college students? By taking pictures with them of course. Sen. Rand Paul was on a mission—a mission to take 10,000 pictures with college students in Iowa starting with Coe College in Cedar Rapids and ending here at Drake University in Des Moines.

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I attended his event at Drake this past Wednesday. Though the candidate came off rather blasé and disengaged, I had to give the man props for making a concerted effort to reach out to us lowly college kids. I mean, we live off Ramen and wear sweats in nearly every daytime situation—we’re not exactly the Washington elites that Paul is used to surrounding himself with.

Yet, we are a demographic that candidates cannot ignore and one that is usually difficult to target. Admittedly, the 10,000-picture tour was effective—my own timeline was littered with pictures of my friends with the candidate and he created quite the buzz on campus.

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Students gather to hear from Senator Paul at Drake University.

The senator also launched a 300 in 30 campaign back in late August as colleges were reconvening for fall semester. This campaign pushed to establish “Students for Rand” chapters on 300 college campuses nationwide in only 30 days—a lofty goal to say the least. With Paul pushing these targeted campaigns, it made me think: are other candidates courting our vote this intensely? Sure Clinton, Bush, Sanders, and most other major candidates have announced college affordability plans that they tout in their stump speeches on college campuses, but has any other candidate dedicated significant amount of campaign dollars and time to college students quite like Rand Paul?

From what I have seen, the only efforts have been reactionary ones against Paul’s popularity among college students on the right. For example, Jeb Bush’s son is beginning a tour specifically focused on the college vote in the next month, but it is no match for the senator’s face-to-face politicking on college campuses.

But why is he so interested in us when no other candidate seems to be? Perhaps he is following in his father’s footsteps. His father—Ron Paul— finished third in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses, but that is not the remarkable part. According to numbers released by The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, Ron Paul claimed ownership of 48% of the under-30 vote that night. Obviously, Rand is taking a page out of his father’s book.

However, it is not just his father’s influence that has Senator Paul seeking the youth vote. His message—non-interventionism, crime and drug policy reform, limited reach of the federal government—resonate well with the college age student. The videos released by his campaign feature young people—“cool” young people—marketing his candidacy as a revolutionary, “stick it to the man” type movement. Even I found myself wanting to be like the individuals in the video…they were just so…hipster.

It is clear that Senator Paul sees the college vote as his ticket to the Oval Office and that he is engaging said voting bloc like no other candidate. He is not the most popular candidate, nor is he the most marketable or sociable. However, it is important to recognize the time, money, and effort that he puts into courting the college vote. As college students, it does not go unnoticed. Other candidates take note—the college vote has not given up on Rand.

Steirer is a senior LPS, politics, and rhetoric triple major and is originally from Hartland, Wisconsin. She loves all things Wisconsin sports, the outdoors, and any and all dogs.