latah county

Alone in the Idaho panhandle, Latah County, home of University of Idaho, voted Democratic this election
Graphic: Daily Yonder

You see it on the presidential election maps in many states: in Ohio, Idaho, North Carolina, and Wyoming — there’s an Obama/blue county surrounded by a pool of McCain/red. What are these islands of Democratic voters?

Many of them are university towns, where the Obama campaign managed to register large numbers of new voters and the charismatic, text-messaging candidate — with a strong, young organization behind him — got their people to the polls.

Monroe County, Indiana (home of Indiana University); Centre County, Pennsylvania (Penn State); Alachua County, Florida (University of Florida); and Montgomery County, Virginia (Virginia Tech), are all blue islands in red stretches of their respective states. These are all metro counties.

But major universities in the rural U.S. also turned counties blue or (or bluer) yesterday.

In Southeastern Ohio, only Athens County voted for Obama ““ and overwhelmingly so. Here, at the home of Ohio University, the Democratic candidate won 67% of the vote (Kerry had won also, but not by so wide a margin ““ 63%). Athens County is non-metro. (There may have been an especially strong push to turn out Ohio college students, since both campaigns knew early on that the vote here was crucial. AP reported in October that out-of-state students were being urged to register in Ohio.)

young dems university of Washington
Members of the University of Washington’s Young Democrats cheered as Obama was named the president-elect
Photo: Nikolaj Lasbo, for The Daily

More rural counties in Obama’s column include Watauga Co., North Carolina, home to Appalachian State University; it went 52% for Obama (Kerry trailed with 46% here four years ago). Latah County in Idaho’s scarlet Republican panhandle voted for Obama, 52%, thanks to the University of Idaho (This county favored George Bush in 2004). University of South Dakota’s Clay County also went for Obama, resoundingly ““ with 61% (Kerry had won here but with 54%). And in Dick Cheney’s home state of Wyoming, students and faculty at the University of Wyoming in Laramie turned Albany County blue; the vote there was 51% for Obama (Kerry had taken only 43% of the vote).

washington college map

Graphic: The Daily

Casey Smith and Anthony Michael Erickson of University of Washington reported on the excitement the 2008 presidential race generated on their campus. Their piece for The Daily includes a revealing map showing the election outcome across Washington State and points up how Obama dominated those counties with major colleges and universities.

At least one of these big campuses is rural ““ Washington State U., in Pullman, Whitman County. This non-metro area is in far eastern Washington, a mountain range or two away from Puget Sound. Four years ago Whitman County went 54% for George Bush, but the GOP didn’t win this year. Obama won with 51% of the vote.

How did Obama manage to become Big Man on Campus? The organization Students for Barack Obama came together in 2006, before the Illinois Senator even announced as a candidate. It maintained a strong, ongoing presence through his website and on many campuses, keeping the focus on voter registration and early voting.

obama roundball

As well, Obama’s on-campus campaigning appears to have been impeccably organized. At Kent State in Ohio, “College Democrats talked up the election to their peers and acted as ‘dorm captains’ — liaisons to the residence halls who ensured students’ opportunities to register to vote,” Jared Matthews, head of the campus Democrats, told the Aurora Advocate. The Kent State group followed up with students, reminding them of early voting and offering rides to the polls.

Barack Obama off the campaign trail and on the court

Photo: via Supersonicsoul

The principal issue of the campaign – the economy ““ is bearing down on college students with special urgency. “This is crunch time,” said Louis Elrod, president of the Young Democrats at the University of Georgia. “Young people are thinking about their futures and whether they can pay off their loans.”

Then of course, there’s Obama himself. Age 47, a husband and father of two young daughters ““ and a very good pickup basketball player, too ““ Obama just had less distance to cover to reach voters under 30.

According to an Indianapolis news station, “An IU student who identified himself as a Republican said he threw his support to Obama at the last minute because of the something the Democrat said on “˜Monday Night Football.’

“‘He was asked, “What would you change in college football,” and he said he wanted a playoff system,’ said IU student Ben Dyar. ‘It was really tied before that, but that pretty much sent me over the edge. I decided to vote for Obama.'”

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