Williamsburg-area Democrats take bigger lessons from debate

When President Barack Obama ran for his second term in 2012, many of the students attending William and Mary weren't quite old enough to vote.

Kathleen Bryant, a senior at the college, started her college career interested in international affairs, but she now has her sights set on American politics.

Bryant sees Clinton's Republican counterpart as a representation of several dynamics in this country, including the growth of minority groups and the economic consequences of American companies moving jobs abroad.

"I think he's the culmination of a lot of different pressures," she said.

She heads the Young Democrats group, which has worked to support Hillary Clinton since the beginning of the semester by making phone calls and going door to door to drum up support and urge people to vote.

Sahil Mehrotra, a junior at the college, sees Clinton and this election as a litmus test of sorts for the country.

"It's really a discussion of who we are as a country," the vice president of the Young Democrats said. "Do we want to open up our our country to people who are willing to work hard? Or do we want to close our borders?"

Students were integral to the city council campaign for Benny Zhang, a William and Mary alum who is now in law school. Students make their presence known locally, and that should carry over to the November election.

"It does feel salient, for lack of a better word," Mehrotra said of political involvement among students. Bryant added: "Students here are plugged in, and you can tell."

Once November comes and goes, the work of the Young Democrats won't stop. They'll move from Clinton to placing their resources behind Democrats in the area.

"Everything we're doing for this election, we have also done for downvote elections," Bryant said.

She thinks Trump himself may be a flash in the pan, but there are aspects of his campaign that are here to stay. She referenced the rise of white nationalists and the chagrin with which certain minority groups are regarded.

"His sort of persona — as a celebrity — is unique, but I think many of the things he stands for will not go away," she said.

Clinton represents a candidate that Mehrotra can put his support behind because her ideas for what the country needs seem to align with his.

"I think Bernie Sanders brought a lot of important issues to the forefront, and the party needs to have conversations about the type of party it wants to be," he said. "But I always supported Hillary Clinton."

Whatever the November election holds, the work the Young Democrats have done has set the stage for their two highest-ranking officers, who both plan to stay involved in politics in the years to come.

"I plan on working in politics, but not necessarily running for office," Mehrotra said. "I think my role is best helping candidates fulfill their goals."

Mehrotra thought Monday's debate was a clear win for his candidate, who he thought was much better prepared.

"I think if you watched the debate, the choice is clear," he said.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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