Skip to main content
Election 2022

Dems make pitch to college students on eve of early voting

Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison fires up the crowd at a University of Maryland rally Wednesday. Joining him on the stage were Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore (far right), U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (center) and Maryland Democratic Chair Yvette Lewis (second from left). Photo by Josh Kurtz.

Just how important are young voters to Democrats in Maryland and beyond?

The chair of the Democratic National Committee, along with most of the statewide Democratic ticket, appeared for a boisterous get-out-the-vote rally at the University of Maryland student union on Wednesday, just hours before the opening of the weeklong early voting period in Maryland.

“Can you feel it?” DNC Chair Jaime Harrison yelled to the 200 or so students, who were fueled by pizza and intensely loud music before the program began. “The winds of change are blowing here on the campus of College Park.”

It’s an overused trope of political media coverage to suggest that turnout is destiny in elections, but it’s also true to a degree. Political parties and candidates know generally who their most reliable voters are, and if they can bring a substantial number of them to the polls, they’ll prosper.

For 50 years, Democrats have imagined that a high turnout of young voters will help their candidates. But the enthusiasm and turnout they desire is often illusory — especially in midterm elections.

“It’s very important for young people to know your power,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D), who is seeking reelection.

Even with relatively young candidates — Wes Moore, the Democratic nominee for governor is 44, and Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City), the candidate for comptroller, is 43 — there’s a still a discernible generation gap between the Democrats and the students they were wooing Wednesday. That was especially evident when Lierman name-checked the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), for whom she worked after she graduated from college.

Wellstone was, not long ago, a progressive icon and may have remained one had he not died tragically in a plane crash while campaigning for reelection two decades ago. But Lierman may as well have been referencing Martin Van Buren.

Still, in Moore, Democrats have an electric nominee — “I’ve never seen a leader like Wes Moore,” Harrison said — who can inspire crowds with his life story, history-making potential, and magnetic personality, and the young crowd seemed to respond to his message.

Moore largely delivered his standard stump speech, though he opened by telling the crowd “Y’all are beautiful,” and leavened his remarks by recounting how his first date with his wife Dawn took place in College Park.

“I’m so grateful for the fact that this place changed my fate,” he said. “I went on a date with a Term that changed my life.”

State election officials announced Wednesday that 600,000 Maryland voters had requested mail-in ballots, and that 180,000 had been returned so far. Moore told reporters after his College Park rally he’s confident that the Democratic turnout will come in strong.

The next phase of that turnout push comes during the eight days of early voting that begins Thursday and runs through Nov. 3. Moore and the Democrats have already tried to gin up the vote with the help of President Obama, who cut a 30-second TV spot for Moore this week, and Hillary Clinton, who appeared with Moore during an online fundraiser Tuesday evening.

The help from political heavyweights continues Saturday, when Vice President Kamala Harris stumps with Moore and Van Hollen at a get-out-the-vote rally in Baltimore.

On Wednesday, Moore’s running mate, former Del. Aruna Miller (D-Montgomery), offered a practical reason for students to vote sooner rather than later.

“If you vote early, you won’t get all those phone calls reminding Democrats to vote,” she said.

Meanwhile, if Republicans running for statewide offices were staging get-out-the-vote rallies in advance of Thursday’s early voting, they didn’t publicize them. But Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick), the GOP nominee for governor, has rallies scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Nov. 6, according to the candidate’s campaign website.

Thursday evening’s rally is at Kylar Barn, an event venue in the Eastern Shore town of Delmar. It features an appearance from Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis (R) and will have a gun raffle. Friday afternoon’s rally, at the Leaping Greenly Farm in Hampstead, features Cox, Michael Anthony Peroutka, the GOP nominee for attorney general, Alan Keyes, the frequent political candidate, and Father James Altman, a Catholic priest from Wisconsin who has been suspended for his political activities.

The Nov. 6 rally will be in Brunswick; details are forthcoming.