Murphy courted student vote: Congressman unseated despite high-profile Clinton endorsement

Posted by Katie Vallas

Republican candidate Chris Gibson won the Nov. 2 local midterm election after weeks of Democratic incumbent Scott Murphy's, D-Glens Falls, efforts to raise student support for his own candidacy, which culminated in a Nov. 1 rally that included specific appeals to student voters.

Former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand endorsed now - unseated Murphy at the rally, which gathered together about 1,200 members of the local community at the Hall of Springs at the Spa State Park. While Clinton praised Murphy's stance on issues ranging from health care to economic reform, he also spoke directly to the students gathered in the crowd when describing policies that affect students' ability to afford a college education.

Clinton said new college loan policies backed by Murphy will profoundly affect students' ability to stay in college during tough economy times. "From now on, every single solitary man and woman in the United States of America who needs a student loan will be able to pay that loan back," Clinton said. "No one will ever have to drop out of college again."

He said a lack of awareness of these changes provides the chief obstacle in encouraging young voter turnout. "We're going into the polls and people don't know this," he said. "You got a day to tell people about this."

SGA President Alex Stark '11 said this reflected how Murphy's office sought the students' votes especially in this year's election. "They had seemed very interested in having a lot of student attendance at the event. Students were certainly a priority with them," she said.

Clinton's emphasis on student voting reflects Murphy's consistent efforts to mobilize the campus's support for his candidacy, as seen in his Oct. 16 speech in front of Case Center and his presence on campus throughout election day. His focus on the student vote came to a head in the initial planning for the Nov. 1 rally, which coordinators hoped to stage at the campus.

"The Murphy campaign initially contacted the Skidmore administration in hopes of holding the rally at Skidmore," Stark said. But she said the legal status of the college as a tax-exempt not-for-profit private institution prohibits political rallies for individual candidates.

"I worked with the administration and Murphy's campaign team to try to negotiate and bring this amazing opportunity right home to our students," she said. "But while Skidmore was absolutely interested in holding a ‘Get Out the Vote' rally and having Clinton speak to us along the lines of voting, Congressman Murphy and Clinton's teams had the goal of a Murphy rally. Ultimately, that Murphy rally would have gone against the school's policies."

While she said the college's refusal disappointed Murphy's office, Stark worked with rally organizers to encourage a student presence at the Nov. 1 event. "I made sure that they secured student tickets for us and gave us all the information so we could have as many students there as possible," she said. "I know that many students who applied were put on a waitlist for tickets, but we did have a good group in attendance at the actual rally, which was really great to see."

Some local attendees at the Nov. 1 rally disagreed with Murphy's efforts to involve students in the election. "To be frank, I don't think this election should be decided by kids who are only here a few months out of the year," said Chris Kent, a member of the Saratoga Springs community. He was one of about 200 other Gibson supporters who rallied outside the event beginning at 6 a.m.

Contrary to Kent's fears, by the night of Nov. 2, voter turnout among students remained lower than expected. "We actually started our own impromptu ‘Get Out the Vote' campaign," Stark said. "We made camp in the Honors Forum lounge and started calling everyone we could: Government majors, people working in the campaign offices, everyone we thought might be interested."

Their efforts led to almost a doubling of the number of students voting in the election, with a total of 313 students. This represents approximately 60 percent of students registered to vote on campus. "You're always aiming for 100 percent and we did not achieve that this year," Stark said.

She said she was impressed with the number of students who engaged with the election beyond the voting booth. "So many students were interning and volunteering with the campaigns for months," she said. "They were definitely doing important work."

While the election results disappointed those students who assisted the local Democratic campaign, Murphy said he remained proud of the work he did in Congress for the 19 months he was in office. "I have no regrets," he said in his concession speech. "We always knew it was going to be competitive and we had a credible opponent."

Gibson defeated Murphy in nine of the 10 counties of the 20th district, with 55 percent of the vote to Murphy's 45 percent. In his victory speech on Nov. 2, Gibson spoke about his hopes of actualizing the promises he made to his supporters. "This is going to be an exciting time," he said. "Our best days are still in front of us."

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