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GOP on Rise on Campus By: Andrea Jones
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Thursday, September 23, 2004


They idolize Ronald Reagan -- never mind the fact that most were not yet born when the Gipper first hit the campaign trail.

They fill their Web sites with photos of bald eagles and flapping American flags, challenge their liberal-minded professors in class and are rushing to join college church groups like never before.

After a 20-year lull, conservatives, it seems, are back on campus.

In Georgia, the number of students involved with campus chapters of the College Republicans has doubled in the last two years.

Nationally, it has tripled since President Bush took office.

"We live in a different world," said national College Republican Committee spokeswoman Allison Aikele, "and students are responding to that."

At UGA, where Bush-Cheney stickers are plastered on the backs of sport utility vehicles in many parking lots, more than 300 young conservatives showed up for the first College Republican meeting of the school year.

And at Georgia Tech, a place known more for computer science than political activism, more than 1,400 students have signed up for the College Republican e-mail discussion list so far this year — double the number of students who were involved last year, organizers say.

'Reagan revolution'

While the fact that it's an election year has likely driven many into the political pool, Georgia Tech student Britton Alexander says the movement to the right is something more.

The new conservatives are too young to be the children of baby boomers who burned their bras or marched on Washington in the '60s and '70s. This generation, instead, grew up with moms and dads of the business-minded '80s.

"These are the children of the Reagan revolution," Alexander said. "They've been influenced by that instead."

Alexander, chairman of the statewide College Republicans, said members of his generation have learned through experience to "work hard and play by the rules."

"The conservative message worked for our parents," he said. "And it works for us, too."

At Emory University, long a bastion of liberal ideas, conservative student groups also are gaining ground.

Last spring, the Emory College Republicans brought in speaker David Horowitz of the Center for Study of Popular Culture, who created a stir on college campuses in 2001 by placing ads in student newspapers denouncing reparations for descendants of slaves.

When the college council refused to pay for Horowitz to speak, the young Republicans raised the cash themselves.

Emory senior Lauren Daugherty, who recently attended the Republican National Convention in New York, said she and other conservatives on campus have shed their reputation for being quiet and tame.

"We're finding each other and realizing that we're not such oddballs," Daugherty said. "We're making noise."

Daugherty said that sometimes means challenging professors who bring politics into the classroom.

"I've heard Bush-bashing in art history class and other occasional comments," Daugherty said. "Just because the students are getting more conservative doesn't mean the faculty is."

And while young Republicans may be getting more vocal, campuses around the state are still left-leaning, said Billy Joyner, the president of the Young Democrats of Georgia.

"George Bush is our biggest recruiter," said Joyner, a UGA senior majoring in political science. "Our numbers have increased, as well."

Fewer options

Joyner said he believes College Republican chapters have seen a bigger uptick because there are so few conservative organizations on campuses for students to join.

"Other than fraternities or church groups, there really aren't a lot of options," he said. "If you're liberal or left of center, there are hundreds of groups to choose from."

But Brian Richardson, spokesman for youth issues for the national Democratic Party, said younger Republicans are grabbing headlines with sensational events.

"They are making a concerted effort," he said, adding that students are still "overwhelmingly Demo- cratic."

But more students are shifting to the right, according to a recent poll of college freshmen conducted by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. Researchers found that fewer incoming freshmen consider themselves liberal than in years past. And more — 22.7 percent in 2003 compared with 21.3 percent in 2002 — identify themselves as conservative or far right.

The move to reignite conservatism on campuses has been carefully nurtured. Well-funded national groups — like the Young America's Foundation that brought Horowitz to Emory — are pushing the conservative agenda across the country.

Patrick Coyle, who coordinates speakers for the Young America's Foundation, said conservative speakers have been getting warmer and warmer receptions from schools.

"We're not trying to preach to the choir," said Coyle, who is based in Arlington, Va. "We've changed a lot of minds."


Andrea Jones writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


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