Published on Friday, October 22, 2004 by Agence France Presse
Campaign Fever and the 'Slacker' Factor
MADISON, United States - The chill winds blowing off Lake Mendota in southern Wisconsin had the college crowd stomping their feet to keep warm as the man of the hour did his best to get their blood pumping.
"Come November 2, it's gonna be a lot colder than this for George W. Bush," vowed polemical documentary-maker Michael Moore. "This year the slackers are rising up. This year the Republicans are in for a big surprise."
It was the kind of red-meat speech that the director of the Bush-bashing documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" has made at college campuses across the country on his "Slacker Uprising Tour," as he works to mobilize the youth vote.
While he's not an official surrogate for the Democratic Party this election season, the popular culture icon has made it his mission to persuade college kids to go to the polls to oust the current Republican administration.
"He's a phenomenon and I just wanted to be witness to this whole event," said Cinthya Covarrubias, 25, as she craned to catch a glimpse of the outspoken director at an event on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus this month.
Moore is just the latest in a string of A and B-list celebrities who have hit this liberal college campus in the battleground state of Wisconsin in recent weeks as the hotly-contested presidential election moves towards a conclusion.
Actors Natalie Portman and Leonardo DiCaprio and the Dave Matthews Band have also stopped over as part of the well-documented push by pop stars, rock stars, rappers, and the Hollywood brat pack to get the traditionally apathetic 18- to 25-year-old generation to vote.
If first-time and undecided voter Shannon O'Halloran is any indication, the offensive may just be working.
"I'm trying to get myself educated. That's why I'm here tonight," said the 19-year-old on the sidelines of the Moore event. "I want to know where the candidates stand on domestic issues ... because I hear more about their stances on foreign policy."
Covarrubias, bundled up against the cold in a red jacket and grey hat, said she was firmly in the Democratic camp.
"Anything is better than Bush at this point," she said, ticking her off her differences with the Republicans on education, jobs and the environment.
Dan Helf, 19, and his buddy, Kurt Cooper, speaking at a voter registration drive organised by "Rock the Vote" on the campus, staked out opposing views on the candidates and the issues.
"I don't like the way Bush handled Iraq at all. I don't like his pre-emptive doctrine," said Helf, a Kerry supporter.
"Bush has strong leadership. I know what he's gonna do," said Cooper, 18. "I like how he handled 9/11. I don't necessarily agree with the way he rushed into Iraq, but he's staying steadfast and giving the troops all they need."
Iraq is the issue of the day for Amelia Barber too.
"We didn't have a plan when we went in there, and now we're stuck, and we've managed to piss off all our allies," said the 20-year-old Kerry supporter.
Mariam Mokri questions the Bush administration's handling of the war on terror, and what she sees as exploitation of the September 11 attacks for "propaganda" purposes.
"They kind of used it to push their own agenda," she said, singling out the USA Patriot Act which gave the authorites broader surveillance powers.
Abortion is a concern too for this 25-year-old woman. "I don't like thinking of returning to pre-Roe v. Wade," said Mokri, alluding to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized the right to abortion in all 50 US states.
The next president may be required to make at least one, if not several appointments to the Supreme Court, which has shaped US policy on matters ranging from abortion to capital punishment, criminal justice, civil rights, and affirmative action.
The independent and long-shot candidate Ralph Nader has some supporters here too, students like Paul Manriquez, 25.
"He's the only candidate in this election who's against the war in Iraq," he said. "He's for universal healthcare. He's pretty much about getting the money out of elections so normal people can run for president."
There's been a fair bit of buzz about this year's presidential debates around campus.
"Students in general have been like, 'gotta watch the debate,'" said Lindsay Hafeman, 19. "People were fighting about it all around me."
Helf said there is no shortage of Bush supporters to argue the toss. "It makes for some good debate around the dorms."
But not everyone on campus has become a political junkie this election cycle, as Abby Johnson can testify.
The 22-year-old does not plan to vote, and she explained why as she stood on the sidelines of the "Rock the Vote event," eating free Ben and Jerry's ice cream while she killed some time waiting for a friend.
"I just don't know anything about either of the candidates, so I don't really care, I guess. I could vote for either one."
© Copyright 2004 AFP