Now that the special election to replace Terry Morrow has been set for Feb. 11, concerns over whether or not nearly 2,500 Gusties will get a chance to vote in the House District 19A race seem to have abated.
But even though the election will be held a full day after students return to classes, local party leaders and Gustavus Adolphus College staff say the Gustavus vote, at times a key factor in Nicollet County elections, isn’t likely to have a major impact on who will win the seat.
“I think they will still have some role in the upcoming election,” said Peter Trocke, co-chairman of the Nicollet County Republican Party. “But whether or not it will be as decisive as in years past is doubtful, simply because none of the candidates are from Gustavus.”
In the past, Gustavus Adolphus students have lent a significant boost to Democratic numbers in St. Peter’s Ward 2 precincts. But the highest numbers of votes have coincided with either presidential elections or elections in which a member of the Gustavus Adolphus staff have been involved.
For instance, when Terry Morrow, previously a professor at Gustavus Adolphus, ran for the first time in 2006, the two St. Peter precincts populated by Gustavus students gave the Democrat a large push toward winning the election.
According to election results, nearly 71 percent of Ward 2 voted for Morrow while only 55 percent of Ward 1 voted for him. Morrow ended up winning with more than an 800-vote lead in what had been a tight race prior to the tally of St. Peter’s ballots.
Kate Knutson, an associate political science professor at Gustavus Adolphus, said that many students choose to vote for the Democratic party, but tend to participate more in the bigger, presidential elections.
“At Gustavus, there is that tradition [of voting liberally], Knutson said. “But I don’t think students are voting a lot in the more local elections.”
Knutson said the results of a student survey, taken this past fall, seems to verify the campus’ political leanings. Though only 22 percent of the campus responded to the survey, slightly more than 50 percent of the students who did identified themselves as Democrats. About 20 percent identified themselves as Republicans.
According to Knutson, the campus’ Democratic student group tends to be more organized, too. On Facebook, it has nearly 147 fans, nearly 60 more than the Republican group does. While there has not been any activity on the Republican group’s page since the presidential election, the Gustavus Adolphus College Democrats posted an announcement about the special election on their page earlier this week.
Typically, said Knutson, both groups get fairly involved during elections, canvassing residence halls and holding forums and debates. But so far the special election hasn’t received the same kind of attention and Knutson doesn’t think it’s going to.
“The special election was set for the day after the semester starts so there’s not going to be a lot of time for campaigning on campus,” Knutson said. “There just hasn’t been the same type of feel.”
Knutson added that there hasn’t been any word on running a shuttle to the St. Peter Community Center so students can vote either, something that is typically done during a bigger election.
Earl Weinmann, part of state Sen. Kevin Dahle’s (D-Northfield) campaign team, said he helped reach out to college students when Dahle ran in a special election for the Senate District 25 seat in 2008.
Weinmann focused mainly on mailings targeted toward college students at both St. Olaf and Carleton colleges. Even though Dahle only had a month to campaign, said Weinmann, tapping into the college vote was a priority.
“We targeted as many [college students] as we could,” Weinmann said. “We never know the full impact any voter has on an election, but I will say there’s an energy with the student vote. There’s a lot of enthusiasm to tap into.”
But, Weinmann added, he ran into some of the same problems local party leaders will run into this February. Like students at Gustauvas Adolphus, students from Carleton and St. Olaf were returning from a holiday break and there were concerns over how effective campaigning on either campus would be when there were only a few days to do so.
The campaign team compensated by inviting U.S. Senatorial candidate Al Franken to both campuses and using his name recognition to bring Dahle to the forefront. Whether or not the college vote helped Dahle win the election isn’t certain, but Weinmann said he thinks they had an impact on the final results.
“I would say they had a big impact, but not a bigger impact than any other group,” Weinmann said. “But, I would never leave any demographic out of the picture. That’s a flawed strategy. If you leave any group out of a campaign, you give them the impression that you don’t care.”
In Nicollet County, local party leaders said that campaigning on campus isn’t likely to be top priority, but efforts may still be made to gain the student vote.
Trocke said whether or not the Republican party will focus on the student vote depends on recently endorsed candidate Allen Quist.
Regardless, Trocke said, the party will have an advantage in the upcoming election simply because they have already selected their final candidate.
“We will be up and running quite a few days before the Democrats even have their primary,” Trocke said. “And that’s really to our advantage.”
Julie Quist, who is managing her husband’s campaign, said that while the school is currently on J-Term, a visit to the campus is likely.
“Allen will probably stop by,” Julie Quist said. “We will find a way to get there. It’s really not a priority, but it’s not just in the background either.”
Karen Foreman, chairwoman of the Senate District 19 DFL Party, said while students may not be a top priority, their voting history makes campaigning for their vote worth considering.
“I think the student vote there has always been significant,” said Karen Foreman, chairwoman of the Senate District 19 DFL Party. “But, we also know that special elections typically have a low voter turnout. I think our candidates will be concentrating on the people they know will vote ... though I’m sure our candidates will look at students, too.”
Reach reporter Jessica Bies at 507-931-8568 or follow her on Twitter.com @sphjessicabies