By Jessica Parral

With the 2008 presidential election approaching, UC Santa Cruz students have begun to rally around Democratic presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Andrea San Miguel, a fourth-year student, began Students for Barack Obama (SFBO) on the UCSC campus last spring. The UCSC branch, which has almost 200 members, is one of 600 chapters around the country. All are part of Obama’s campaign for student outreach, which extends to an array of schools, from New York University to Brigham Young.

San Miguel emphasized Obama’s idealism as one factor behind his popularity with students.

“[Obama’s] general message is one of hope for our country and [for] people around the world,” San Miguel wrote in an email. “I’ve spoken to many, both young and old, and the prevailing trend I’ve seen is that older people have a deep cynicism about the ways of Washington. Some of us have a strong, idealistic feeling that change for the better can still occur, if we want it badly enough.”

San Miguel continued, “Since Obama’s message speaks resoundingly that change is still possible, I believe that is why young voters are latching onto that concept.”

SFBO’s only competition thus far is “UCSC For Biden,” an organization started by Heather Stephens, fourth-year student and president of the UCSC College Democrats.

“I’d been advocating the senator’s candidacy for some time before he actually announced, in fact and it was suggested to me to start a campus group, so I did,” Stephens wrote in an email.

She praised the Delaware senator’s commitment to lowering the cost of education.

“College students understand the value of education, and students at any UC, including our own, particularly understand the struggle of paying for a college education, even if it’s a public one,” Stephens wrote. “One of his beliefs is that four years of college should be free to all. The only way to succeed in a world where globalization has made free trade an inevitable aspect of international relations is to start with educating our children.”

Despite the fact that Stephens heads both the UCSC Biden campaign and the UCSC College Democrats, the latter group has decided not to endorse any one candidate until after Feb. 5, when a large portion of the nation’s Democratic primaries will have taken place.

In fact the UCSC College Democrats has also been supportive of SFBO’s efforts on campus. The two groups coordinated their meeting schedules prior to the start of fall quarter to ensure that meetings and events did not coincide.

“I make no secret of my advocacy for Joe Biden,” Stephens said. “But in doing so, I only speak as myself, not as the official representative of [the College Democrats].”

Meanwhile, the UCSC College Republicans has also decided not to endorse a candidate.

“We’ll probably work on campaigns for statewide candidates,” said Kaitlyn Shimmin, UCSC College Republicans external vice chair. “But for now, we do not officially support any particular candidate.”