By Kelsi Peace, Features Editor
Daniel-Paul Watkins coined his opponent’s campaign slogan.
For Watkins, sophomore political science major from Fredericksburg, Va., and his opponent, Ryan Stephen, sophomore finance major from Spring, the race for SA executive vice president has been friendly – especially because the two are good friends.
Stephens said he was joking with Watkins about his jealously over Watkins using his initials in his campaign slogan, DP 4 VP, when Watkins suggested Ryan use his own initials, R.S., to make R.S.V.P.
“Both of us had a look of recognition all the sudden,” Stephens said, “I said, ‘I’m using it.'”
Now, campus has been plastered with Watkin’s Dr. Pepper and DP 4 VP flyers and Stephen’s R.S.V.P. flyers, along with flyers from candidates vying for SA executive president and SA executive treasurer for the 2007-2008 academic year. And while not all candidates are trying to balance friendship and competition with their opponents, each is trying to balance classic campaigning tactics like meeting constituents with newer venues like iTunes U and Facebook.
This year, campaigns increased the technology involved with Facebook, iTunes U and Internet campaigning.
For the second consecutive year, candidates created groups for support on Facebook, a venue candidates agree is beneficial more for name recognition than accurate polling.
“People just join groups to join groups,” said Kyle Moore, candidate for SA executive treasurer.
However, Moore, junior management major from Double Oak, has a Facebook group – as does every candidate in this year’s race, with numbers ranging from about 120 to 400 members.
Tyler Cosgrove, this year’s SA executive treasurer, endorsed treasurer candidate Kevan Kirksey, sophomore finance major from Tyler, in a wall post on Kirksey’s group profile.
But Facebook is just one venue for the computer-savvy.
Stephen created a website, www.fixacu.com, that displays his biography, vision, platform issues, a forum for debate and a place to volunteer to help with his campaign. As of April 4, Stephen planned to allocate half of his Wednesday Chapel speech to a video, which will essentially be a digital version of his platform.
In a similar move, presidential candidate Matt Worthington, junior English major from San Antonio, has his platform available on YouTube.
Moore said he was considering buying a flyer on Facebook, which will be displayed 10,000 times for $5.
And the university’s latest technological update, ACU on iTunes U, offers students a chance to see the Monday night debates online, adding a new element to the debates – the words, gestures and composure of the candidates will be on record at www.acu.edu/itunes.
Despite the convenience of mass-Facebook messages and e-mail at the candidates’ fingers, all stress the importance of more classical campaigning tactics as well. Candidates say face-to-face interaction shows what they stand for as candidates and builds relationships that will be important if they are elected to office.
“Like a comic book character, my skin gets see through when I’m up in front,” Worthington said.
Some things never change
Campaigning can’t begin until candidates receive signatures from 10 percent of the student body, which is about 430 signatures. Once Maher Saab, SA executive president and this year’s elections co-chair, verifies the signatures, candidates can begin campaigning – with materials pre-approved by Saab and elections co-chair Madison Saniuk, sophomore political science major from Arlington.
Flyers, banners and chalk advertisements represent each candidate with slogans like “Start the SA Revolution” from presidential candidate Brandon Smith, junior international relations major from Keller, or simple “Kevan Kirksey for SA treasurer.” Their goal is the same: name recognition.
Another big concern candidates have is getting students to vote.
“The best tactic is holding [students’] hands and walking to a polling place,” Watkins said.
Smith said he has asked supporters to each get 10 students to agree to vote; less formally, candidates say they are always talking to people, building relationships and strengthening ones they already have.
“I don’t think you can be SA president and not have relationships with student group leaders,” Smith said.
Over the past few weeks, candidates have addressed social clubs and student organizations, presenting their platforms and taking questions, all in an effort to gain support from what is seen as a voting bloc.
Kirksey, a member of men’s social club Galaxy, said he thinks clubs will act as a voting bloc. Stephen, also a member of men’s social club Galaxy, said he expected about 300 votes overall from students in social clubs, a number he said is significant but will not determine the outcome. Moore, a member of men’s social club Frater Sodalis, said he has been encouraging fellow members to vote.
Candidates can spend up to $200 on their campaigns, including monetary or supply donations, and are expected to present documentation of their campaign expenses by 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Campaigners who violate these rules receive a warning or are removed from the race at the discretion of the election chair.
The candidates face the student body in Chapel on Wednesday to present three-minute speeches they hope will gain them support.
Both treasurer candidates said it is difficult to speak on a behind-the-scenes, generally defined position. But for president and vice president candidates, the speech is a chance to display their leadership skills. All the candidates said they would prepare a speech in advance, though some prefer bulleted points and other fully written speeches. Tactics vary from candidate to candidate, and it is, undoubtedly, more than a little personal.
Saab said this year has been problem-free, and his experience campaigning last year did not involve smear campaigns (intentionally tarnishing an opponent’s image with slander) or other dirty political tactics. In both cases, Saab credited the character of everyone involved for the clean campaigning. But, Saab said, he has heard horror stories about past campaigns.
“Politics are dirty,” Saab said. “[You have to] try to make sure you’re not part of the shadiness.”
Both candidates for vice president said they discuss more about their campaigns with one another than normal. But for the treasurer and presidential candidates, that is not the case.
Worthington said he and Smith do not discuss the campaign at all, and Moore and Kirksey said they do not know much about their opponents.
While all candidates agree that smear campaigns are not a part of their campaign tactics, both presidential candidates said they have heard rumors about themselves.
Saab said often the candidate’s campaign team becomes overzealous, turning to out-of-control tactics that reflect poorly on the candidates, who are held accountable for the actions of their teams.
Smith estimated he spends six to eight hours per day on his campaign, making signs, talking to people, making phone calls and meeting with his campaign staff.
Kirksey doesn’t have a concrete campaign team, but he said he assigned jobs to volunteers. Stephen has a core team of eight that he said put in about 65 hours the first week in April going over campaign strategy; he said about 20 to 25 people volunteer.
Worthington’s campaign team made his posters and helped him put on a campaign rally featuring student bands presenting poetry, rap, hip-hop, indie and acoustic music. Worthington said his team of 12 to 15 consistent students and 20 to 30 fluxuating students sometimes stay until 2 a.m. working on material; he stays with them.
Moore got a late start to campaigning because he was out of town at a conference for SA. He completed his petition April 4, getting 100 signatures in 15 minutes, he said.
“I really almost gave up,” Moore said.
Campaigning is time consuming and sometimes exhausting, candidates say. Watkins said he is often questioned about his motives for serving, with people asking, “Are you just doing this for my vote?” Stephen said he has had the same issue, for instance, when he helped some students carry boxes to the Volunteer Service-Learning Center.
“You have to second guess yourself,” Stephen said. “One, for your own motives, and second, how are you at portraying yourself. You don’t want it to be a self-love fest.”
Smith also said campaigns can be very self-focused.
“I hate campaigning. Absolutely hate it.” Smith said.
As campaigns draw to a close, some candidates grow nervous while others become calmer.
“It’s not consuming my life,” said Watkins, who later said, “I might not win.” Watkins said he will be OK with either outcome.
“I’m getting less nervous,” Stephen said. “Because in the end, it will come down to who campaigns best.”
“Yeah I’m nervous,” Moore said. “Of course I’m nervous. This plans the next year of my life.”
At the end of the week, students will have decided which candidate’s campaign portrayed the leaders they want. As of April 3, Watkins said he planned to have the Wildcat mascot hold up a campaign sign after Chapel; he also planned to give away Dr. Pepper to accompany his DP 4 VP slogan – one last chance at name recognition on the last day of voting.
When it’s all over, it’s safe to say that Stephens and Watkins will still be sitting around, talking about SA. Maybe Watkins will share a Dr. Pepper.