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Candidates should have addressed students more

Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 04:01


The NBC  Republican Presidential Candidates Debate, hosted Monday at USF, provided a great opportunity for the Tampa area to get a firsthand look at the political issues in this year's election.

Yet, the candidates missed a real opportunity to address the students whose campus they visited, avoiding many college-age issues, including the pressing issue of the dismal job market for graduates. 

Florida's unemployment rate is 9.9 percent, and the rate jumps to 17.8 percent when including those without full-time employment, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity. Mitt Romney introduced these statistics and briefly began discussing the need for jobs to improve the economy before quickly shifting to debate Cuban foreign policy. 

This was characteristic of the wide-ranging debate that switched topics from Terri Schiavo to space exploration in a matter of minutes. When asked about the DREAM Act, all four candidates rejected the idea that children of illegal immigrants could gain citizenship by attending college — instead focusing on the act's military components. The issue was briefly discussed and, again, diverted to another subject.

Despite the college backdrop, neither tuition nor student loans were brought up during the discussion. There was also little mention of health care, women's rights or gay rights — all  hot-button issues that are important to the college-age demographic. 

This may be in part because college students are not expected to be the key demographic for the Jan. 31 Florida primary. Debate moderator and Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith told The Oracle he does not "think the college-age demographic is that significant" and that in "the Florida primary, people under 30 are probably going to be about 7 percent of the vote, which is not a huge chunk."

Yet, President Barack Obama's 2008 election win was greatly aided by his ability to capture the youth vote. According to a Pew Research Center study, Obama received 66 percent of votes from the under-30 age group.

Though much of Monday's debate centered on what each candidate would do opposite of the president, addressing young voters may have been one area in which the candidates could learn from Obama. In a race so close that three different candidates have won three different primaries, that 7 percent could be what it takes to determine the front-runner for the race.

Perhaps just as moderator and NBC anchor Brian Williams felt obligated to say "Go Bulls!" at the debate's close, the candidates felt obligated to come to USF without fully addressing the students that comprise it.

The next Republican presidential debate is scheduled for Thursday at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville — another opportunity to acknowledge the college demographic. The candidates should take note and more fully engage students' concerns in their discourse.

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