October 28th, 2012
02:51 PM ET
10 years ago

Battleground Blog: Virginia students engaged and informed

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN has sent dozens of reporters, producers, contributors and correspondents to the key battleground states to cover the final days of the 2012 election. Here is a report from John Avlon, CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. It's his take on a student town hall held in Lexington, Virginia.

(CNN) - The Battleground State Bus Tour rolled into Lexington, Virginia, and sat down with twenty college students at Washington & Lee University to talk about the election.

The economy is still the number one issue for these students, but surprisingly it isn't just about finding a job after graduation. The vast majority of students in this center-right group cared most about the generational theft of the deficit and the debt.

"My opinion is the older folks didn't do their job. They didn't manage the economy," said Josh Laguerre. "They just spent, spent, spent. They didn't plan for us and now we have to clean up the mess that they've made."

Obama has lost ground with these students, including former supporters who are now undecided or leaning towards Romney.

"I agree with the president on social issues. I really do, and I think a lot of us are free-thinking in that way. But it's kind of gotten to the point where it's like triage. It's, like, okay, the economy's most important to me," said Caitlin Tyree. "In 2008 I supported the president. I even worked for grassroots organizations and I was all about him. In this election it's kind of just been like a bad break up between me and the president."


But while Mitt Romney had the decided edge among students in this conservative community – including one Vegan student who said the environment was her most important issue – there remain real questions about the authenticity of his recent reversion to Moderate Mitt after campaigning as a "severe conservative" for the past two years.

During the primaries, Romney "was a little bit more on the far right and a lot of us didn't really feel comfortable with that," said JJ Feinauer, who is still undecided. "His recent shift to the center I think has healed some of those wounds, but it's also a little bit more bittersweet." But an additional concern is about how a President Romney would deal with a right wing dominated Congress. "If he becomes the president it's just going to be unleashing the beast on a lot of the things during the primary that came out," continued Feinaiuer. "That make a lot of us very nervous about a shift in the direction in the country that we don't really want."

This group of students has little love for the policies of the past Bush administration, even as they feel that President Obama hasn't brought the change they'd hoped for. Interestingly, many of the students agreed that Republican obstructionism in Congress was responsible for the gridlock in Washington and these young deficit hawks felt that raising a portion of deficit reduction from revenue was a necessary and acceptable tradeoff for a bipartisan deficit deal in which they agreed everything needed to be on the table. And when it came to taxes, even some Romney supporters agreed that his tax plan didn't add up.

Talking with these engaged, informed students was refreshing and a rebuke to the kind of cynical political consultants who believe policy isn't important in presidential campaigns. These students have done their homework and they care passionately about the future of our country. And that's good news for whichever candidate wins this election.

Filed under: 2012 • Mitt Romney • President Obama • Virginia
soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. Mike

    Obama is too Marxist for me . No jobs and wants government to solve all your problems. The last person to do that was named Chavez. Think about it.

    October 28, 2012 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  2. Dan

    These students interviewed for this article did not really do much thinking about the problems and just kind of glossed over the reasons that we have this debt in the country. Putting two wars ona credit card is not a smart way to go, these students should also know that older workers are already paying for it. You will never erase this debt without a balance of cuts and raising revenue. But when it comes down to it , most republicans agree with Chaney that deficits do not matter,vote for multiple choice Romney and you will see first hand a replay of the bush years.

    October 28, 2012 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  3. Jill

    Generational theft? really? You haven't worked 50 years yet and paid into federal, state, county, FICA, FUTA, real estate, put kids through college spending your own savings to do so, fought in a war. Come back after 50 years and tell me who the thieves are. I think your tune will change!

    October 28, 2012 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  4. geggyg

    To that vegan student who says the environment is her main concern i hope she will learn that Romneys plans for the environment include getting rid of most enviro regulations, and reduce the input ordinary people can have in enviro decisions, he also plans to gut or disband the EPA and FDA . While I agree that not all current regulations are necessary ( some have been overtaken by newer scientic research) and can be withdrawn or rewtitten to provide protection , a robust enviro, food and drug regulatory system is needed if we want the world to survive in reasonably healthy state.

    October 28, 2012 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |

    Washington & Lee is an ultra-conservative school for the offspring of the 1%. I know. I spent four very long years there. It is not a place where one can find a balanced perspective on political issues.

    October 28, 2012 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  6. Neutral Observer

    Repair our infrastructure? Roads, bridges etc??? Where have you been??? We have just borrowed more money and more debt then every other President combined!! None of that went to infrastructure, roads or bridges? Where did it go? Off like a f– in the wind? With all that we have spent, none of it has gone to those important items. If the students did their homework they'd realize that throwing money at something with no accountability gets nothing but bankruptcy. We have spent so much these kids should be force to pay their share now and then we'd see who is ahead in the polls.

    October 28, 2012 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  7. mike, Gardner, Ma.

    Students have been hit the hardest by this President in the past 4 years than ever. 50 percent cant find a job after graduation yet they still support Obama. Why ? Because he is a rock star, one of them. They could not be more wrong. If they take a moment and just read HIS OWN WORDS in his books they would not support him so strongly. And Jay Leno had it right when he said the President is going to our colleges to get to first time voters because the second time voters are BROKE and cant find a JOB ! !

    October 28, 2012 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  8. wondering wanda

    To comment about this quote:

    . "His recent shift to the center I think has healed some of those wounds, but it's also a little bit more bittersweet." But an additional concern is about how a President Romney would deal with a right wing dominated Congress. "If he becomes the president it's just going to be unleashing the beast on a lot of the things during the primary that came out," continued Feinaiuer. "That make a lot of us very nervous about a shift in the direction in the country that we don't really want."

    To address the concerns she has in that quote–One of his spokeswoman said–you feel the same way only you talk about the issues differently in the General Election-Afte being elected you go back to your base–based on that information SHE SHOULD BE CONCERNED!!!!

    October 28, 2012 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  9. wondering wanda

    An a child shall lead them–Yeah!!! a Republican has finally said what has happened-WOW
    Republican obstructionism in Congress was responsible for the gridlock in Washington

    October 28, 2012 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  10. Mark

    Words r cheap. Romneys record speaks for itself. Early in the primarys Rom was just appealing to his base. Judge a man by his record not by his promises

    October 28, 2012 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  11. Hannah Rodriguez

    Correction: Five of the students (including two of those quoted, Tyree and Feinauer) were from Southern Virginia University, a liberal arts college located in nearby Buena Vista, Va.

    October 28, 2012 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  12. cbr

    It is about time that people recognized that students are informed. They do know the issues and they are prepared to vote. They are an easy target for the right because they have a more difficult time fighting back.

    Hurray for CNN for this ticker story.

    October 28, 2012 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  13. plain&simple

    Social issues are important! The economy is important! So which came first the chicken or the egg? Why look at it as either or? It's easier to make changes to do with money....lots of options. It's more difficult to do with social issues....look how long it took to get the vote for women and blacks! How about integration? How about equal education? Social issues can take years to evolve....money comes and goes and everyone pays attention to it. Don't fool yourself into thinking how we live in our society is not important. Ask yourself who can deal with all the issues better? A one issue person is not what we need. We need balance and competence asross the board as well as consistent values and policy!

    October 28, 2012 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  14. cgire

    This is indeed a major election – an election highlighting two choices for change. The choices – incrementally build on the work that's been done, or throw everything out and start over.

    So, if you're not voting, you are leaving this critical decision to others. You're letting your neighbor vote for you. You're letting your grandpa vote for you. You're letting your ex-boyfriend vote for you. You're letting your crazy Uncle Charlie vote for you.

    Even if you believe the candidates' differences are not overwhelming, there is always a choice. Even if "you'd rather there was someone else," there is always a choice.

    And think about it – who benefits if they can keep you from voting?

    I'm not letting that happen with my vote.

    October 28, 2012 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  15. Woah

    Wow, Everyone here is acting like republicans don't work across the aisle, and maybe are forgetting history. Both parties hold bills hostage and place poison bills in the legislation. Put your glasses on and realize both.. BOTH parties do the same thing. All Politicians lie. I can tick off a list Obama Lied about, am I surprised. No. Romney same thing historically? Sure. They are politicians.
    Just in case you are "wondering"
    Repeal Patriot Act
    No Lobbyists on my cabinet
    Post Every Bill online before it is signed.(Health care?)
    No back room deals (Healthcare?)
    All the Debates on Cspan during the healthcare rounds.
    Unite america's Races. (Look at his first comments on the Judge and Police Officer, and Florida Shooting)
    Transparency. (Executive Privilege in Holder Case.)
    More Czars than EVER!
    After Four years, some of the blame falls on the current administration.

    October 28, 2012 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  16. Bharat Patel

    Young guys don't believe in Romney cheating story. I ask my accountant regarding Romney's 2011 tax gimmick. Romney is telling American people he paid 14% taxes. Actually he was folling in 10% bracket if he had claim $4 million donation.
    More cheating will come after election. He will amend his 2011 tax return (because according to law within 3 years he can amend and correct mistake.) and will collect back all over paid tax money with interest from IRS. And interest will come out from taxpayers money.

    October 28, 2012 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  17. fernace

    It's tragic to lay out an arguement Against a candidate & still "lean" in his direction! Romney has been all over the map w/his policy politics! Because of that I take the "severe" Romney at his word! In my state there's been a battle between the governor, his conservative co-horts & Planned Parenthood! The organization recently won a court battle, but the war still rages! I find this to be un-American behavior to the nth degree! A vote for Romney is a vote to continue this type of war against women & an agreement that it's OK for the government to intrude themselves in our most private health matters! Obama stands up for women's rights; Romney endorses Mourdock!! Obama Nov6!!

    October 28, 2012 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  18. casperjunior2000

    believe america, believe, I do believe that americans at the end will choose the guy that represent all americans: blacks, whites, gays & heterosexuals not only 53% of the population.

    October 28, 2012 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  19. Phil Bickel

    I wish all young people were as bright, engaged and civil as these kids are.

    October 29, 2012 12:32 am at 12:32 am |
  20. DOG1

    Isn't this the Romney (hard to keep track which one we're talking about) who said he was going to do away with the student loan programs? The one who said if you want to go to college just the borrow the money from your parents?
    Apparently these CHILDREN are too young to remember George Bush but if Romney gets elected they'll get to see what happens when a Bush clone's in the White House and they have to live through that. Better minor in Chinese!

    October 29, 2012 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  21. Remington

    This article makes no sense to me. The students of this expensive private conservative University readily admit that the Bush policies got us into the situation we have now. They also agree that the Republican Congress has stonewalled and blocked any and all policies and fixes to the economy that Obama has attempted to institute. They recognize that Romney has flip flopped his own statements about social issues, tax issues and much more. They are socially progressive. Yet after all of this, they are supporting Romney because Obama hasn't magically fixed all the problems the country has. What? A Romney presidency will surely push us even further down the rabbit hole with his economic plan. Maybe it is your super conservative upbringing and parents views you are stating in these interviews, and maybe the answer instead is voting out the obstructionist Republican Congress, and reelecting President Obama.

    October 29, 2012 01:30 am at 1:30 am |
  22. Michaela

    I just can't see how America can afford another 4 years under Obama.
    His maturity is questionable and his petty behavior during this campaign has not been presidential.
    Then there is the Benghazi tragedy , more lies and cover ups.
    Sorry , but this man has to go before he takes this country over the next fiscal cliff.

    October 29, 2012 02:32 am at 2:32 am |
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