Campus Kingmakers Bask in Candidates' Attention

Twenty-year-old Atul Nakhasi is not your average college junior. On a window ledge beside his biology textbooks, he has framed pictures of himself with Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Bill Richardson.

On his desk, there are piles of business cards from campaign directors and members of local and national media.

"It's been insane, you know?" he said. "That's a one-word description of what's happened. But it's been amazing as well."

Nakhasi is the president of the College Democrats at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. He's had a unique inside glimpse at every major democratic presidential candidate as they've visited his campus during their tours through the state.

The candidates are courting him and his fellow students for the valuable youth vote.

"The most surreal moment has definitely been my introduction of Hillary and Bill Clinton," he recalled.

"And I say, 'It is now the proudest honor of the University Democrats to introduce Hillary and Bill Clinton!' And they just erupted like a volcano," he said. "That was definitely the most memorable moment that I'll never forget."

A few weeks later, Nakhasi received a hand-written thank-you note from the former president, which read: "Dear Atul, thanks so much for speaking at Hillary's Iowa City rally. I'm very grateful. Sincerely, Bill Clinton."

As candidates finish the final push before the Iowa caucuses, all the stops have been pulled out.

They're focusing on young voters who may not only vote for them, but may work as campaign volunteers after the primaries.

"The youth is a major constituency group for the Democratic party and it's a growing group with growing influence," Nakhasi said.

For the 2004 presidential election, a record 47 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds turned out to vote. That's up nine percentage points from the 2000 presidential election.

So candidates are reaching out on MySpace and Facebook, and starting in the key early states by directly contacting student party leaders.

Greg Boguslavsky, the state chairman of the College Republicans in New Hampshire, is happy to see that students are being courted by the campaigns.

"It's reassuring that the political candidates are engaging the students in the political process. And they aren't ignoring student opinions and student voices," he said.

Boguslavsky has been at galas with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, barbeques with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and rode along with Arizona Sen. John McCain on his way to a town hall meeting at Dartmouth College.

"Do you think there's any difference in my generation, kind of the children and grandchildren of the baby boomers and your generation?" Boguslavsky asked the senator.

"This may surprise you a little, but I think your generation is more patriotic and more willing to serve a cause greater than yourselves than my generation was," McCain answered.

With Iowa and New Hampshire also serving as swing states for the general election in November, these campus kingmakers may enjoy high profile attention for at least two more semesters.

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