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Students for Mitt Romney gaining a following

With less than a year until the Iowa Caucuses, the battle’s already brewing between college political groups on the right.

Students for Mitt Romney, founded by Vanderbilt junior Garrett Sweitzer, is off to a hot start. Since CPAC, the group has spread to 33 schools.

“In the 2008 primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, student votes constituted about nine percent of the electorate. I look at those numbers and I think organizations like Students for Mitt could bring it up to 15 percent,” Sweitzer said.

Unlike the College Republicans, who cannot endorse a specific candidate during the primary, the group will be able to reach out to the public to raise money and campaign for Romney. The organization plans to produce a 30-second TV ad to air in Iowa and New Hampshire that will praise Romney and critique Obama for their respective business experience within the private sector. The ad will also call attention to the unemployment prospects faced by students upon graduation from college.

That focus on the economy and employment is the cornerstone of the group, over social issues—a liability in 2008 for the once-pro-choice Romney.

“Students for Mitt Romney believes that social issues are important, but do not need to be at the forefront of this election,” Sweitzer said. “When we’re facing a looming financial crisis and about to be overwhelmed by debt, we need to put aside our squabbles on traditional social issues and be able to sit down and think about what’s important to our nation.”

The group’s focus might be in keeping with the moment, and another candidate who’s gained traction as a youth candidate: Mitch Daniels, who called for a “truce” on social issues.

Student Initiative to Draft Daniels, a political action founded by Yale senior Max Eden, has already run two televised ads in primary states and boasts approximately 60 chapters.

“Daniels is a genuine guy,” Eden said. “He has a serious record and a seriousness of purpose, he will do what needs to be done for America. Romney is plastic. He has been running for President for six years, and will do what needs to be done to get elected.”

Eden sees the two figures as representatives of opposing forces in the job struggle, a situation he believes will make Romney the stronger candidate.

“Abstractly, people want to vote for someone who looks like the guy they work with, not someone who looks like the guy who laid them off,” Eden said. “Concretely, Daniels sweeps the Midwest, the rest is a cakewalk. Romney doesn’t, and loses.”

Romney has more to address than social and image issues, though. In the words of Republican consultant Alex Castellanos, Romney must litigate his health care record.

John Pitney, Professor of Politics at Claremont McKenna College, sees the former Massachusetts governor’s health care program as a major hurdle to overcome.

“Mitt Romney’s assets are his executive experience, business background, and ideological positioning in the mainstream of the Republican Party,” Pitney said. “His liabilities are his status as a political and economic insider, as well as his past departures from conservatism. He will have to do a lot of explaining to convince conservatives that RomneyCare is different from ObamaCare.”

And despite the early organization for Romney and Daniels, Pitney has another candidate for youth support.

“The one to watch is Gingrich,” Pitney said. “As a former professor, he has a natural connection to college students. But he has a lot of baggage: He is no longer young, and created a great deal of controversy as Speaker.”

Liz Furlow is a staff writer for the Vanderbilt Hustler. She is a member of the Student Free Press Association.

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