By Pierce Jaffri
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards has kicked off a statewide tour of universities and colleges as she tries to gain the support of young people who are seen as critical to her campaign for the U.S. Senate.
Edwards, who is facing off against fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen in the April 26 primary, has already visited Towson University and the University of Maryland at Baltimore and visited Johns Hopkins University on Wednesday.
“I think Donna has firsthand experience with some of the challenges that young people face, particularly around student debt,” said Ben Gerdes, who is the communications director of the Edwards Senate campaign. “It is important to her and this campaign to get around the state to as many colleges and universities as possible to talk about some of the important issues facing young people and, you know, it’s critical that we engage them early.”
A group of about 50 people attended Edwards’ Oct. 15 visit to Towson, including students and professors who gathered in a classroom to hear her speak. She answered a variety of questions ranging from student loan debt, climate change and the wage gap between men and women.
She said she supports lowering the price of college tuition, policies that will combat climate change and policies that will ensure that men and women of equal work receive equal pay.
“I think it’s really important for young people to be fully engaged in our politics and our policy,” Edwards said. “Everything we do today impacts them in the future.”
Emily Baker, a co-president of Towson College Democrats, said she was not a fan of Edwards until she heard her speak during her visit to Towson’s campus.
“I was actually really impressed by her,” Baker said. “I really like that she took the time to come. She seemed really engaged as to what we had to say instead of dodging around questions we were asking.”
Edwards and Van Hollen are seeking to fill the seat that has been held by Sen. Barbara Mikulski since 1987. Mikulski announced in March that she would not be seeking reelection to a sixth term.
Edwards has represented Maryland’s Fourth District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2008 and is a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; the Science, Space and Technology Committee; and she also serves as co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee.
Van Hollen has represented the state’s Eighth District since 2003. He is the former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and is currently the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
An August Washington Post article reported that Van Hollen “enjoys robust support from state party leaders and deep ties to voter-rich districts in Montgomery County and Edwards’s backyard in Prince George’s County.”
Van Hollen has also outraised Edwards in the financial realm. According to campaign financial forms submitted to the Federal Elections Commission, Van Hollen raised $950,000 in the third quarter and has $4.1 million cash on hand, while Edwards raised $638,525 in the third quarter and has $368,507 cash on hand.
In the long-term, votes are the most valuable asset to both candidates. According to the Maryland Higher Education Commission listing, Maryland is home to 14 public colleges and universities, 21 community college campuses, 26 four-year independent colleges and universities, two 2-year independent colleges and eight regional higher education centers, which entails a large amount of youth voters.
As a result, the campaigns of both Edwards and Van Hollen have made efforts to involve college students in their campaigns through a range of volunteer positions and internships.
In the past, the youth vote – or lack thereof – has played a significant role in elections. A 2012 Politico article reported that an analysis conducted by the Center for Research and Information on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University found that President Obama won at least 61 percent of the youth votes in the states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio, with each of those states having had the potential to be won by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney if he would have gathered a 50-50 split of the youth vote.
Tishan Weerasooriya, a co-president of the College Democrats of Maryland, said he believes it is important that both the Edwards and Van Hollen campaigns engage youth in the election process if they want to gain support from a large part of the Maryland electorate.
“The youth will play a crucial role in the upcoming elections,” Weerasooriya said. “A lot of issues that we are now facing, such as college affordability and criminal justice reform, center on youth. Such issues are very pertinent to young voters and this is something I think young people will realize and will galvanize them toward being involved and actually going out to the polls.”
An October Washington Post-University of Maryland poll showed Edwards leading Van Hollen 38 percent to 28 percent without the candidacy of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, whose name has been mentioned as a possible late entrant into the senate race.
With the April 26 Democratic primary approaching, Edwards’ campaign is trying to visit as many campuses as possible to secure the youth vote.
According to Gerdes, the campaign aims to visit as many universities and colleges in Maryland as possible, with campus visit dates still tentative.