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Clinton Courts Collegians

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reached out to young voters in a visit to her Massachusetts alma mater yesterday.

Senator Clinton asked the women-only students at Wellesley College to help her shatter what she calls the highest glass ceiling. WBUR's Curt Nickisch reports the demographic may just make the difference.

TEXT OF STORY

CURT NICKISCH: Many of the thousand plus students in the crowd wore t-shirts saying "I can be president, too!" And they heard Hillary Clinton speak about her activism on campus in the 1960s that eventually led to her being Wellesley's first student commencement speaker:

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: In so many ways, this all-women's college prepared me to compete in the all boys club of presidential politics.

SOUND OF CHEERS FROM CROWD

NICKISCH: The talk — her first at the college as a presidential candidate - was no ordinary stump speech. It had the feeling of a dish session among friends. Clinton talked about her struggles to fit in at Wellesley. About having to meet the weekend curfew and the rules on boys in rooms. She also talked about graduating. That's when she met a professor on a campus visit to Harvard, trying to decide between law school there and Yale.

CLINTON: And one of my friends said: Professor So-and-So, this is Hillary Rodham. She's trying to decide between us and our nearest competitor. And he looked down at me, and he said: well first of all, we don't have a nearest competitor.

CROWD LAUGHS

CLINTON: And secondly, we don't need any more women.

CROWD GASPS

So, I decided to go to Yale!

CROWD CHEERS

NICKISCH: Much of the hour-long talk drew attention to Clinton's bid to be the nation's first woman president. So she spent less time talking about issues and did not take questions. She did tell the young crowd she wants to make college more affordable, and she called for an end to the violence in Darfur.

Overall, a message well received by student Brandi Parker from Indiana, who said Clinton kept issues in perspective:

BRANDI PARKER: The issues that really matter to people today. Environment and education, she made the war in Iraq as something on par with that — bringing them back is as important as getting education started, getting environmental policy started. It deserves equal attention.

NICKISCH: Meanwhile another student, Deirdre Garrahan from Virginia, was less taken. The junior was wearing a t-shirt from the College Republicans, which Clinton headed at Wellesley for a while.

DEIRDRE GARRAHAN: As a conservative on campus, I was excited to see her come, it was a great event. But it also made me realize that there are other candidates that I hope are going to win the presidency.

NICKISCH: Whoever is going to win the presidency may be decided by young people like Garrahan, according to John Della Volpe. He's in charge of polling at Harvard's Institute of Politics.

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: There will likely be more votes cast by voters less than thirty years old than voters age 65 and above. So as far as a share of total votes cast, the young voters will probably be somewhere between 17-18 percent, likely the highest overall percentage that we've seen in almost a decade or two.

NICKISCH: That might be why Clinton used the Wellesley event to launch her effort to court college students. Her campaign's starting support chapters at more than one hundred universities across the country.

That's a good demographic for Clinton, says Michael Dupre. The researcher at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics says recent polls show this age group favors Clinton over the other Democratic candidates, including her chief rival, Barack Obama.

MICHAEL DUPRE: I think the surprise was not so much with Senator Clinton as it was with Senator Obama. In terms of: they've always been touting him as having the young vote. And I think what you're seeing here is that Senator Clinton has challenged that.

NICKISCH: A spokesman for Obama says he's got campus support groups, too, but that they've been started by students themselves.

There's also some question whether conventional polling is getting an accurate picture of young voters. They don't use the land lines as much that phone surveys count on. But based on the attention the candidates are now paying the demographic, it's clear the they're going to give it more than just the old college try.

For WBUR, I'm Curt Nickisch.

This program aired on November 2, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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