By Esteban Bachelet
It has been 10 months and two days since Kenyon students flocked into the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC) for First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech last Nov. 3. “We’ve got three days. This is a weekend, Kenyon,” Obama said, addressing a crowd of students packed into Tomsich Arena. “If you’ve got dates planned, bring them to the campaign office. Anyone trying to impress anyone, bring them over to the Obama office. ﾅYou all could swing an entire precinct for Barack Obama.”
During the final three campaign days that followed the First Lady’s words, Kenyon students turned out in overwhelming support for the Democratic Party through canvassing and volunteering. “Our precincts were the bluest in the district,” Kenyon Democrats President Sydney Watnick ’14 said. “While Republican presence is strong [in Knox County], the local Democrats here [at Kenyon] are enthusiastic.”
Though Kenyon will not experience the thrill of a presidential election this academic year, the political momentum has not stopped in Gambier. Four seats for the Village Council will be on the ballot for General Elections that will be held on Nov. 5. Students registered in Ohio can vote at the Gambier Community Center behind the KAC or vote early 30 days before the election at the Knox County Board of Elections in Mount Vernon. “The campus tilts heavily to the left, and this is reflected in the relative size of the Kenyon College Republicans as opposed to the Kenyon College Democrats,” Kenyon Republicans President Andrew Gabel ’15 said. “While there is a gap in the raw numbers, I’d submit there is not a gap in enthusiasm.” Republicans on campus employ an open-door stance to facilitate discussion and integrate ideas into the community.
This student participation from both sides of the political spectrum played a large role in the 2012 presidential election. “Kenyon students did an incredible amount of campaigning out in Knox County [and other surrounding areas],” Professor of Political Science John Elliott said. “People were willing to talk to [canvassing students] and that is sort of important about the county as well,” Elliott said.
Knox County has voted primarily Republican for the past 70 years and this trend will most likely continue. “The simplest point is that Knox County is a very conservative area,” Elliott said. The 2012 election was no exception. More than 60 percent of the population voted, with 37 percent supporting the president in Knox County. Republican candidate Mitt Romney claimed the rural areas while Obama won the urban centers. In the end, Obama claimed victory in Ohio, edging out Romney by 166,214 votes while holding a slim margin at 50.67 percent to 47.69 percent.
Outside of Gambier, which is generally more Democratic, Knox County is likely to remain in the same political alignment. “Since [the political makeup] of Knox County has stayed the same for 70-plus years ﾅ the odds are they will stay the same for another 20 or 30. Obama is seen by rural Americans as being urban. He’s a Chicago guy. He is a city person; he has a city style. Rural America resists that.”
As in the 2012 election, energized students helped pass the May 2013 tax levy to fund education projects. “Turnout was very high in the May emergency levy election ﾗ Kenyon students came out in droves during finals week to support their community and faculty,” Watnick said.
Student involvement, while overwhelmingly Democratic, does have some Republican backing. “It’s a bastion of liberalism in a sea of conservatism,” said Gabel on the political tides in Gambier and the Knox County area. “We tried our best to go out, get people excitedﾅ [we] got to see a different side of Mount Vernon. It was ultimately a defeat for Romney, but it was a victory for the Kenyon College Republicans.”
Despite holding different views, Democrats and Republicans on campus said they agree on being passionate and active community members, a staple of the Kenyon education. Ultimately, all of these factors will make for a strong political year at Kenyon.