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BYU students energized by alum Mitt Romney's presidential bid

Published: Friday, July 31 2015 9:33 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann Romney vote in Belmont, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) (Charles Dharapak, AP) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann Romney vote in Belmont, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) (Charles Dharapak, AP)

PROVO — The air is warm with a crisp fall breeze. Half-golden, half-green leaves swirl down to the ground, and students rush in crowds from one building at Mitt Romney's alma mater to the next.

Some sit outside in groups and chat. Others lay in the sun. Not every conversation focuses on Tuesday's election, but when asked, every BYU student has something to say about it.

"We've been very positive this semester, we're all very passionate members and leaders for the cause for Mitt Romney," Emily Kinard said of the BYU College Republicans. "He can make the changes needed. Personally I think it's so important to be involved and care about this."

The Universe, BYU's student newspaper, has been doing a series about Romney's younger years for the past few weeks, with a lot of focus on his BYU years, Kinard said.

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann Romney vote in Belmont, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) (Charles Dharapak, AP) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann Romney vote in Belmont, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) (Charles Dharapak, AP)

"A lot of students think it would be cool for a Mormon and BYU alum to be in office, but I don't know if it will sway votes," she said.

The candidacy of a BYU grad was omnipresent Monday, with fliers everywhere advertising an election night party, university newsstands full of papers with stories outlining much of Romney's life and exit poll stations just waiting for voters to show up Tuesday at the Spencer W. Kimball Tower to cast their ballots — and fill out surveys about who they voted for and why afterwards.

"I think there is increased excitement among students," said Quin Monson, director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy (CSED) in BYU's political science department. "I don't think the proportion of supporters is higher than it would normally be for any Republican candidate … but there is a level of excitement for him that exceeds those normally in candidacy."

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney kisses wife Ann Romney after they voted in Belmont, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (Charles Dharapak, Associated Press) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney kisses wife Ann Romney after they voted in Belmont, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (Charles Dharapak, Associated Press)

Though students typically don't have the money to donate to campaigns, they do have time, energy and talents to give. Monson is connected to numerous former students who are actively involved with Romney's campaign, which is unusual, he said.

Students with differing levels of political involvement are scattered across the campus, with some diving in and others sitting back and moving their lives around the politics. There have been two specific types of Mitt Romney supporters that David Romney, a Middle East studies/Arabic major, has noticed.

"There are a lot of people who are really excited about Romney," said David Romney, a distant cousin to Mitt and president of the BYU Political Affairs Society. "There are those who want to get involved and help because of (Romney) as a candidate, where they previously wouldn't have."

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann Romney arrive to vote in Belmont, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (Charles Dharapak, Associated Press) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann Romney arrive to vote in Belmont, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (Charles Dharapak, Associated Press)

For those students in this category, many became interested in Romney's political position due to like religious views, he said.

"There were also people with the opposite reaction; this has galvanized them to be politically involved, they see he has kind of become a face of Mormonism … you have these students who say 'he's not the face of my Mormonism,’ ” David Romney said. "There are a lot of people with that point of view, people wanting to become politically involved to show their side of things."

For Ben Ader, co-president of the BYU College Democrats, the experience of a Democrat in a predominantly Republican-Mormon community is an interesting but worthwhile one.

"Really it's not as bad as most people think. When people find out I am involved with the College Democrats, they are mostly curious, they want to know my point of view," Ader said.

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann Romney vote in Belmont, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.  (Charles Dharapak, Associated Press) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann Romney vote in Belmont, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (Charles Dharapak, Associated Press)

When it comes to the political science department at the university, the professors are "rather friendly to both ideals; they like thought and discussion of both," he said.

The BYU Political Affairs Society will hold an election party Tuesday night on campus for any of the student body interested. There will be games, prizes for guesses on electoral wins and free pizza. Democrats and Republicans will be watching it side by side, which will create an interesting atmosphere, said Debra Andersen, president of the BYU College Republicans.

"Students are definitely excited, they identify with Romney because of BYU and religion. Those aren't the only reasons, but are part of the interest," Andersen said. "It's exciting to have a candidate to relate to so well. … I think students are interested especially now that there really needs to be changes. They are excited about Mitt Romney to see that he can do that."

Those at the election night party can discuss their points of view, debate the candidates' chances with everything done in good jest, David Romney said.

"I really have been surprised at how much diversity there is on campus. We have a lot of Democrats and Republicans on campus, and I think it's a real benefit to students on campus to be able to share their point of view and ideas," he said.

One thing both the College Democrats and Republicans have been doing for weeks is sending students on deployments to some of the swing states. Students have gone by bus to either Colorado or Nevada to do door-to-door knocking and phone calling for a weekend.

Many students have volunteered with the Romney campaign by helping at a call center in Orem. The College Republicans met every Tuesday night and worked at the center, said Kinard, co-social media chairwoman for the Republicans.

"There's a lot of support. There's also quite a bit of support on campus with Barack Obama," she said. "Just because Mitt's Mormon, I don't think it's necessarily turned votes. Lots of people are pretty aware and making their decision issue-based."

Obama's campaign is still campaigning in Utah and making use of volunteers, Ader said.

"As a leader in this organization, it is interesting to see how my life revolves around politics, but how so many other people don't even care," Ader said. However, he said this campaign year has been different, including the election night party and those who come to be a part of it.

"To have everyone come together, to be there to support. For at least one day of the year they come," he said. "This one day everyone will be interested to see what happens."

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