It was the first day that Florida State University’s residence halls were open. Students and parents were unloading bedrolls and pillows from their cars parked around the quad.
But there was still time for good old-fashioned politics that might get college students to cast their votes.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine made a campaign stop at FSU in Tallahassee as part of a three-college tour ahead of the Aug. 28 primary.
Organizers held signs and had a table laden with coffee and donuts, and roughly 20 students gathered to hear Levine speak, most of them first-time voters. Levine is up against four other major gubernatorial candidates in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. And two major Republican candidates for governor will be competing in that party’s primary.
“Florida is the last line of defense against Donald Trump and his little mini-me, radical (Republican gubernatorial candidate) Ron DeSantis…,” Levine said. “…We need to get out there and vote. We need to make sure we turn our state blue, that we turn our nation blue because so goes Florida this year in this governor’s race, so goes the presidency in 2020. And we’re going to change our country today in Florida.”
As it turned out, many of the gathered students had already voted in their home districts before coming to Tallahassee, and they had a lot to say.
One student, freshman Jessica Dixon – who plans to major in neuroscience – had already mailed in her ballot to Brevard County. She voted for Levine.
“One of the reasons (I support Levine) is his stance on charter schools: He is against charter schools (public schools run by private groups) and he thinks the money should go to (traditional) public education instead, and I agree with that,” Dixon, 18, said.
“I also think he has the potential to beat (Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen) Graham and I don’t think Graham is enough of a liberal candidate…so I feel that Levine is her best opponent on the Democrat side, and I also think he has the best chance of winning the governorship (in November).”
One group of students said that they are more concerned with the general election than with the primary election.
Sneha Kapil, 18 – a freshman who plans to major in biochemistry – said she thinks that politics “is starting to affect younger people more.”
“I think politics is starting to matter to (young people) more than it may have used to, so I think more (young) people will turn out to vote,” Kapil said. “It might not happen all at once, but maybe slowly.”
NextGen America is one progressive group that thinks young voters will turn the tide is this year’s general election and is working hard ahead of the primary to get young people to vote. The group will be at FSU Monday ahead of the Tuesday primary.
NextGen America’s Florida chapter began in September with $3.5 million from American billionaire Tom Steyer. The group has since endorsed Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum for governor. Gillum is also the mayor of Tallahassee.
FSU freshman Griffin Leckie, 18, said Gwen Graham is the Democratic candidate he feels has the best chance to win in November. Leckie already voted early in Orlando before he moved to Tallahassee for school.
“They call us the ‘school shooting generation’ because we’ve grown up with a lot of violence in places we think are supposed to be safe. And I think with a lot of recent events – in Parkland, Orlando’s Pulse night club – a lot of these things have really galvanized a lot of young people (to pay attention to politics),” Leckie said.
He said he thought the Democratic candidates have similar platforms so the more important variables between the campaigns are: Which candidate has the most volunteers, raises the most money and “gets a grassroots movement” that can maintain an energy through Nov. 6.
Levine said he believes the August primary is going to be a close race and said he believes that his campaign has done a good job at reaching out to younger voters.
“Our volunteers are organic, and they’ve come to our campaign over the last year and a half, so we haven’t inherited someone else’s group to push our issue,” Levine said.
Levine left FSU to travel to the University of Florida for a 1 p.m. stop and then planned to visit the University of Central Florida later in the afternoon.
“(The election) is going to be about turnout,” he said. “It’s going to be about your ground game.”