By the third and final presidential debate, which over 200 University of Maryland students watched Wednesday night in Hoff Theater at the Stamp Student Union, most voters had already decided which candidate they will cast their vote for come Nov. 8. But for many Republican students at UMD, questions of their role in this election still remain.
Normally, college political groups take on the task of campaigning for their party’s candidate. And while Maryland normally votes Democrat anyway, this year in particular has been an unconventional one for the UMD College Republicans.
“There are some people [in College Republicans] voting for Hillary [Clinton], there are some people voting for [Donald] Trump, there are some people voting for Gary Johnson and Evan McMullin,” College Republicans chairman Jacob Veitch said Wednesday night at UMD’s official debate watch party. The watch party was co-sponsored by College Republicans, College Democrats, Maryland Discourse, MaryPIRG, the Society of Professional Journalists, Students for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty.
“You see a wide array and frankly I could not tell you what the popular majority is. We’re kind of leaving that to everyone to decide for themselves just because of how complex this election has been,” Veitch said.
Secretary Steven Clark said College Republicans has a policy of never formally endorsing candidates, although they did support Gov. Larry Hogan in 2014. Clark and Veitch both plan on voting, though neither has decided which they will be voting for. They both agreed that none of the debates had any real impact on their decision.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the debates have not been policy-oriented,” Veitch said. “It’s been flinging mud and insults for the most part.”
With a club divided on presidential preference, College Republicans have instead focused on making change elsewhere. Members have been volunteering to phone bank and canvas for Senate and Congressional races in Maryland and the club recently came out in support of constructing a statue to honor Darryl Hill, Maryland’s first African American football player.
“I agree with that strategy in a sense, because when [people] go to vote for president, they just select their party’s ticket instead of … voting for people who could actually do a good job,” said freshman engineering major Ryan Lessel, who will vote for Trump because he is a Republican, though he dislikes both candidates. “The president really can’t do much if the House is against him or her, so if they had control of Congress, even if they didn’t have the presidency, they could still prevent the president from doing something they didn’t like.”
Through disappointment in the two major party candidates during the first election that most members are old enough to vote in, UMD College Republicans have been able to find a silver lining.
“I think we’ve had about six months to deal with the outcome of the primary, so at this point it’s been ‘okay, what can we do positively and how can we make a difference on campus?’” Veitch said. “We think that there’s a lot of areas of agreement between Young Republicans and Young Democrats or young people in general. So we’re trying to find ways that we can find common ground and use that to really make a difference.”