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This morning, around a thousand individuals gathered at the Festival Center on the campus of James Madison University.  IMG_2212I arrived a little after 8:30 AM for an event which was slated to begin at 10:30 and already the line stretched around the building.  Along with fellow blogger Nick Farrar, we checked in at the press table and awaited the start of the rally.  IMG_2214About an hour later, a group of nine gathered outside to show their support for the Cuccinelli campaign while another local activist drove his truck down the street with signs of the three Republican candidates.

It seemed that just about everyone who was anyone in local Democratic politics attended, including past mayors and party leaders.  About a third of the seats in the room were reserved for them.  Given that seats were at a premium, a vast majority of the crowd had to stand.

After a few individuals spoke, including the Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia and a former Republican member of the House of Delegates, both gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe and former President Bill Clinton took their turns in front of the podium.  Rather than offer you a summary of what they said, here is a recording of both speeches:

IMG_2296To the best of my knowledge, this event was the largest, and thus arguably most important political event in Harrisonburg since candidate Obama spoke at JMU in 2008.  Does this event herald a victory for McAuliffe in Harrisonburg and statewide?  We’ll find out in a week.

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With less than two weeks to go until Virginia holds its gubernatorial election on November 5th, it seems that the Democratic Party has decided to bring in the big guns to promote their candidate, Terry McAuliffe.  As part of his final tour of the state, former President Bill Clinton will be joining Mr. McAuliffe.  According to news from Deb Fitzgerald, Chairwoman of the Harrisonburg Democratic Party, both Clinton and McAuliffe will be on the campus of James Madison University on Tuesday.

Here are the details:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

HARRISONBURG EVENT

WHAT: “Putting Jobs First” Event with President Bill Clinton and Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe
WHO: President Bill Clinton, Terry McAuliffe
WHEN: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 10:30 AM EDT
Public Access time: 9:30 AM EDT
Press Access time: To be announced
WHERE: James Madison University, Festival Conference & Student Center – 1301 Carrier Drive, MSC-4201, Harrisonburg, VA 22807

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, this is the highest profile event for the city of Harrisonburg since Barack Obama came here during his campaign for president.  I know I plan to be there and hope to get my press pass soon.

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IMG_2184On Wednesday evening, Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis spoke in front of over a hundred students and members of the local community at James Madison University.  Sponsored by the Student Government Association, after Sarvis spoke he fielded numerous questions from the enthusiastic and supportive audience.

This trip marks Sarvis’ first visit to the Shenandoah Valley in about a month as he continually crisscrosses the state spreading awareness of his campaign.

Although a host official campaign materials were available on site, including palm cards, door hangers, bumper stickers, buttons, and yard signs, several supporters brought their own home-made signs, including this particularly amusing one featuring grumpy cat.

IMG_2195For JMU students who are interested in learning more about Robert Sarvis and the ideals of liberty, I encourage you to attend a meeting of Madison Liberty, a group which meets on Wednesday evenings starting at 7:00 PM in Taylor Hall, Room 305.

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About a week ago, I wrote about the attitudes of James Madison University students regarding the 2012 presidential election.  Although you should read the previous post below if you have not done so, the summary is that 42.6% of students surveyed support President Barack Obama, while Mitt Romney has 27.8%, Gary Johnson has 2.8%, Jill Stein has 1.9% and a large percentage, 24.1%, were undecided.

After the second presidential debate, but before the third, I conducted another door-to-door poll of a different batch of off-campus JMU students to gauge how their opinions had shifted.  The two questions asked were the same as before.  Are you registered to vote in Virginia and, if so, which of the presidential candidates would you support if the election were held today?  This time, 95 students answered.  Like the last survey, their answers closely mirrored the previous results.  Democratic candidate Barack Obama improved slightly, rising by .6% to 43.2%, while Republican Mitt Romney declined by 1.5%, falling to 26.3%.  Libertarian Gary Johnson dropped as well by .5% to 2.1%.  Interestingly, none of the respondents this time mentioned Green candidate Jill Stein as his or her top pick.  As before, zero students made any comment about Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode.  With this numbers, you will note that a considerable number of students were once again undecided, showing an increase of 4.3% to now rest at 28.4%.  Continuing the previous trend, when considering just Obama versus Romney responses, Obama dominated with 62.1% to Romney’s 37.9%

With the two surveys combined, Barack Obama is the favorite of a plurality of James Madison students with 42.9%, Mitt Romney is second with 27.1%, Gary Johnson is third with 2.5%, Jill Stein is fourth with 1%, although not a candidate, Ron Paul is fifth with .5%, and a vast number of students are still undecided with 28.4%.  In the Obama/Romney head-to-head, Obama gets 61.3% to Romney’s 38.7%.

Although I’m admittedly a political animal, I’m surprised that the number of undecided voters remains so high among JMU students.  What explains this trend?  Do they suffer from a lack of information, is apathy high, or is there simply a strong dissatisfaction with both of the two major party candidates?  After all, as one undecided student commented, she didn’t particularly care for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

Given the previous results, I would assume that at this point a majority of undecided students will break along the same percentages as their brethren have done, unless something changes.  But a lot of factors could alter this outcome in the 13 days that remain.  I hope to have one final survey of JMU students before Election Day to gain a clearer picture.

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On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of this week, I’ve visited three different off-campus JMU apartment complexes in Harrisonburg.  Part of the purpose in doing so was to assess the opinions of the students regarding the 2012 presidential election.  The general theory is that JMU students who registered to vote in Harrisonburg in 2008 supported Barack Obama by huge margins and helped him to capture the city last time.

For a bit of historical perspective, in the 2004 presidential election, when students had to vote in their hometowns rather than at their college or university, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections about 11,000 people voted in Harrisonburg.  George W. Bush won about 6,100 or 55.9%.  In 2008, John McCain had slightly less votes than Bush did four years prior, but only took 41.2% as around 14,500 people voted in the city. While about 1,000 more people voted in Harrisonburg in 2004 as they did in 2000, 3,500 more showed up in 2008 as compared to 2004.  A large portion of this increase was no doubt due to changes in Virginia law, which allows students to vote where they attend university.

So one important question to consider is will JMU break heavily for President Barack Obama this November?  With this thought in mind, I asked the JMU students two questions.  Are you registered to vote in Virginia and, if so, if the election were held today, which of the candidates would you support?

Now, a considerable number of students were not at home at the time of my visit, a handful was not registered to vote, some were registered in their hometowns in other states, and still others refused to answer.  However, 108 students did respond.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, won a plurality, 46 or 42.6%.  Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, finished in second place with 30 votes or 27.8%.  Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, was a distant third with 3 votes or 2.8%, Jill Stein, the Green candidate, was fourth at 2 votes or 1.9%, and, although not a candidate, one student planned to write-in Representative Ron Paul.  Even though he is listed on the Virginia ballot, none of the students mentioned Constitution Party candidate, Virgil Goode.  However, you should note that a sizable portion of respondents, 26 students or 24.1% stated that they are undecided.

If these survey numbers are indicative of the entire student population, then the race is still pretty fluid at JMU.  As expected, Barack Obama is ahead, but not by an insurmountable margin.

I assume that whichever candidate or campaign works the most diligently to court these undecided voters will not only win the JMU vote, but also likely claim Harrisonburg as well.  Toward that end, rumors swirl that President Obama will visit JMU prior to the election as he did back in 2008.  And what sort of impact did the second presidential debates make? What will happen?  We’ll find out soon!

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Paul Ryan in Rockingham County
Photo by Helen Shibut

Paul Ryan, the Republican Representative for Wisconsin’s First Congressional District and Mitt Romney’s running mate, made a campaign stop at the Rockingham County Fair Grounds on Friday.  His visit marks the first of any presidential or vice presidential candidate to the central Shenandoah Valley.

Besides Representative Ryan, speakers also included: Delegate Tony Wilt of Rockingham County, Delegate Steve Landes of Augusta County, State Senator Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg, and Representative Bob Goodlatte of Roanoke.

The event itself was quite well attended.  Most estimates I’ve read peg the audience about 3,000.  Like the recent Obama rally in Charlottesville, each person had to pass through “airport style security” overseen by both the Secret Service and the TSA.

Reaction to the gathering was mixed.  Although most of the people that I spoke with enjoyed Ryan’s speech, the event was plagued with a number of shortfalls.

First, no one could bring in liquids, which was expected.  However, the fact that one could not even get a cup of water without paying for it seemed completed absurd.  Would a person have to suffer through their thirst if he or she could not pay $2.00 for a beverage?

A view of a portion of the crowd and the fence that segregated attendees.

Second, the venue did not allow for a majority of the spectators to see Paul Ryan.  The organizers set up a ring of fences around the platform and only a portion could enter this circle.  Although raised, the platform was not nearly high enough for many people to even catch a glimpse of the man who could very well be our next vice president.

However, one positive aspect, as compared to the Obama event, was that the police did not close down traffic in a highly central location for the better part of an hour, which would have wasted the time of countless residents.

Overall, I would rate Ryan’s event a success even though, as mentioned, there were several aspects that could have been and should have been handled in a better manner.

So the next question is will any of the five presidential candidates: Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Gary Johnson, Virgil Goode, or Jill Stein, make a stop in the Shenandoah Valley between now and the election?  If you will recall, four years ago Barack Obama won the city of Harrisonburg after making a speech at JMU while John McCain merely sent a relative to the local GOP headquarters.  After all, personal campaigning is an important element to electoral success and Ryan’s visit on Friday should serve to bolster the local Republican effort.  Now how will the other candidates respond?  Our first answer comes tomorrow when Libertarian Party candidate Judge Jim Gray speaks at JMU.

As a final note, I want to shout out a special thanks to Helen Shibut of Madison Liberty for the picture of Paul Ryan.  As mentioned, I happened to be one of the countless spectators who could not get close enough to get a usable shot.

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From Madison Liberty

Tomorrow, Monday, September 17th, Judge Jim Gray, the Libertarian Party vice-presidential candidate, will be on the campus of James Madison University.  Madison Liberty is hosting the event.  As their name implies, they are a liberty-minded group of students at the university.

The gathering itself will be taking place starting at 3:30 PM on The Commons, which is next to D-Hall.  For non-JMU students, a parking pass is available at parking services, located in ground floor of the parking deck beside the football stadium on Champions Drive.

Whether you consider yourself libertarian, conservative, liberal, some other political persuasion, or even those who are not particularly informed, tomorrow provides another excellent opportunity for the students of James Madison and the surrounding community to expand political dialogue and learn more about Gary Johnson and his running mate, Judge Jim Gray.

You may have forgotten, but tomorrow is Constitution Day, the anniversary of the signing of our Constitution.  How better to commemorate the day than by spending an hour with Jim Gray alongside a bunch of students who actively seek to restore and expand our freedoms?

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Photo by the JMU College Republicans

On Thursday, three student-led groups at James Madison University held a debate to discuss a multitude of important political topics.  The groups involved were the College Democrats, the College Republicans, and Madison Liberty.   For the format of the event, each organization submitted two questions regarding a specific political issue that all of the groups then answered.

It was quite interesting to hear the differing positions of the students and their groups, to hear where they overlapped and where they disagreed.  All three seemed to support policies that are more tolerant of drug legalization than the mainstream of either the Republican or Democratic Parties.  Could this result simply stem from the college mentality of greater personal freedom?  Or does this commonality represent the growing acceptance of more liberal drug laws and a future in which each state or locality can set their own policies?  And when a Republican student from Washington D.C. asked if anyone thought that the American Civil War was not a “good war”, it was amusing to see a fair number of hands in the audience raised in opposition.

However, what made the evening truly special, in my mind, was the fact that the three groups made a conscious effort to come together in a civil atmosphere to actually discuss political principles.  Unfortunately, it seems as if the whole political sphere has become increasingly poisoned with divisive and unproductive rhetoric.  The mentality of far too many individuals is, why waste your time debating issues with people of differing opinions?

The 2012 Republican nomination for President, Senate, and House of Representatives shows a similar trend among members of the party.  For example, twenty-year incumbent Bob Goodlatte has so far refused to directly engage Karen Kwiatkowski, his primary opponent.  He practiced a similar move in 2010 when facing challengers outside of the GOP.  Although there are certainly tactical arguments to be made why he shouldn’t debate, his more or less outright refusal to do so further erodes the chance for future political dialogue here in the Shenandoah Valley.  Now it would be disingenuous to pretend Goodlatte is some sort of lone exception.  After all, this act has been the trend of frontrunners and incumbents for many years, a tactic used to delegitimize their opposition.  Nevertheless, regardless of the merits of the candidate who employs it, political debate ought to be encouraged rather than stifled.

However, I’m a bit disappointed to confess that I haven’t always held such a viewpoint.  As I recall, during my time with the College Republicans of William & Mary from 1998 to 2002, our group didn’t make many efforts to reach across the aisle to engage the Democrats or other opposed organizations in order to openly explain the difference in our two groups so that the student body could get a better understanding of the issues that separated us.  Why would we?  After all, weren’t they the hated enemy that we sought to defeat by any means necessary?  And what about the libertarians?  Those that came to our organization were typically viewed with suspicion and deemed too wacky to be taken seriously.  I’m glad to see that the JMU organizations are choosing a more open-minded path.

Getting back to the present, here in the Shenandoah Valley, there are currently at least five different kinds of political groups active: Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Constitutionalists, and the Tea Party.  Is it possible for some or all of these groups learn from the JMU students and to come together and offer the community a similar forum?  Or is such an idea nothing more than an idealistic dream?

Given their efforts to improve political dialogue on Thursday, I applaud the efforts of the JMU students in Madison Liberty, the College Republicans, and the College Democrats.  Although there is certainly a wide variety of political opinions, the attempt of these groups to not only reach out to the community for more recruits, but also foster a greater understanding and even tolerance for opposing viewpoints is a lesson that organizations outside the university and national political pundits would do well to learn.

For those of you who did not attend, to follow is a brief excerpt of the gathering.  I hope you find it informative.

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I haven’t seen Corey Stewart in the city of Harrisonburg since he spoke to the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party back on February 24th.  At that time, he spoke primarily regarding The Rule of Law Campaign, but also explained how George Allen was a poor legislator during his time in the United States Senate.  Although I could discuss in length how his recent flip-flop on the former Governor greatly tarnished my opinion of him, that topic must wait for another article.

Although Stewart himself will not be at James Madison University, his actions as the Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors will be a central focus on Tuesday.  Tomorrow, JMU’s chapter of Amnesty International along with Virginia Organizing will be holding a screening of the new film 9500 Liberty.  From what I’ve read about the movie, it paints Stewart and his supporters in unflattering terms.  According to rottentomatoes.com, “9500 Liberty reveals the startling vulnerability of a local government, targeted by national anti-immigration networks using the Internet to frighten and intimidate lawmakers and citizens.”

I know most conservatives don’t care for Amnesty International and I will confess that I don’t like some of their positions, such as their opposition to Virginia’s death penalty.  However, when it comes to issues like torture, this group serves an important role as a watchdog to protect citizens and foreigners alike from abuse.

So here is the trailer for 9500 Liberty:

I’m guessing that I will not agree with the message of 9500 Liberty.  After all, protecting our borders is one of the primary Constitutional duties of the federal government.  If Washington D.C. cannot or fails to prevent aliens from entering our country illegally, then it falls to our state and local governments to pick up the slack.  In general, I’ve been supportive of the efforts of folks like Corey Stewart to battle the influx of those people who have violated our laws.

So why should we watch the film?  Well, even if you happen to disagree with the political premise, that doesn’t mean that the movie has no value.  After all, although I wouldn’t rate Fahrenheit 9/11 as a particularly great work, it did raise questions that needed to be discussed.  So too could 9500 Liberty.  I hope it is more than mere liberal propaganda.

In case you are interested, 9500 Liberty will be showing on November 15th from 7 PM to 9 PM at JMU’s Memorial Hall in room 2210.  Love it or hate it, my hope is that this movie will expand the political dialogue.  I suppose that there is only one way to find our for sure.

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On Thursday, I received a rather negative comment on this blog regarding an event going on at James Madison University.  After reading such news, I decided to head over to the university to see what all the fuss was about.  Well, it seems that the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform had put up their Genocide Awareness Project (or G.A.P.) in the middle of campus.

For those who haven’t heard of G.A.P. before, it is a colorful display that contains graphic images of both abortions and various mass murders through the ages such as the Holocaust and the Rwandan butchery.

Now, I can understand why these pictures would upset most people, like the person who sent me the comment yesterday.  After all, when I first started working for Students for Life of America, I had a rather negative impression myself.  Who wants to see such horrible pictures?  Of course the answer is no one.  Won’t they just serve to turn people off from the movement?

But then I got to thinking about my own experience.  Back in high school, what motivated me to be a pro-life activist?  Wasn’t it the same terrible pictures adorning literature from Heritage House 76?

Dukes for Choice Protest

But don’t these images serve to weaken the pro-life cause?  Well, how many people do you suppose are either so disgusted (or so pleased) by these pictures that they decide to have an abortion as a result?  I doubt anyone could make such a claim.  Abortions aren’t pretty, nor are the images that result from this choice.  Some pro-lifers may reject these tactics, but if any choose to abandon the movement when confronted with them, then I doubt they had a very strong commitment in the first place.

No one likes to see these pictures, nor should they.  They are meant to show the real-life consequences of abortion.  You can argue the philosophic merits or detriments of abortion all you like, but when you face the brutal images of the deed, you cannot help but feel revulsion.  It is both natural and human.

After touring the Buchenwald concentration camp outside of Weimar and seeing the photos of what went on there during the Nazi regime, I gained a new-found understanding of the barbarous ways that a man can treat his fellow man.  It wasn’t a journey for fun or pleasure, but it was nevertheless important.  Hopefully, by making such knowledge public we can decrease the likelihood of such events happening in the future.

So too is the goal of the G.A.P.  The organizers don’t like these pictures anymore than you or I.  So then why do they do it?  Well, as a result of this gross panorama the life of even one unborn child is saved, is it worth it?  I believe the answer is yes.

Below are several thumbnail pictures of Thursday’s event.  You are free to look at these graphic images or not.  If you have never seen pictures of the results of an abortion, I encourage you to do so.  Consider yourself warned; you won’t like them, of course, but they do serve as a valuable tool.

So what will your reaction be the next time G.A.P. and the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform comes to your campus?  Will you protest, like one reader and Dukes for Choice, demanding restrictions and squelching the 1st Amendment right of free speech?  Or will they motivate you to take a stand for those who cannot speak for themselves?  I suppose that there is only one way to find out.

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