Even while they soak up the political fervor of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, Centre College students David Miller and Jordan Shewmaker are making the most of their chance to spread the word about the vice presidential debate a little more than a month away.
Miller, a senior and head of the College Democrats, is an Orlando, Fla., native, but has become ensconced in the politics of his adopted home state since coming to Centre. He was chosen as a delegate for Kentucky and decided to invite Shewmaker, a Boyle County High School graduate and Miller's predecessor as head of the campus Democrats.
Since they have been in Charlotte, Miller and Shewmaker have made sure the "Centre Debate 2012" buttons have made it into the hands and onto the lapels of some of the most recognizable figures in media and Democratic politics.
Miller said the Kentucky delegates ran into former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a graduate of Asbury College, who sported the debate bauble proudly Tuesday night, as did former Connecticut senator Chris Dodd. Longtime CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer and Chris Matthews, the host of "Hardball" on MSNBC, also have been gifted with a pin.
It has apparently not been tough promoting the debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan among the political class or the general population. Miller and Shewmaker said they have found enthusiasm and curiosity at every turn.
“People are very excited to see these two candidates,” Shewmaker said. “The vice presidential candidates can be let loose to engage the opponents and be the attack dog, so-to-speak. That’s a job both Ryan and Vice President Biden are prepared for and they embrace. People are eager to see what happens when they come together.”
Although there have not been any close encounters with Biden, interest will be ratcheted up even more when the outspoken former Delaware senator introduces President Barrack Obama tonight.
Miller — who admitted he has waged a one-man campaign to get the word out — said the Delaware delegation may willingly provide some of the best button exposure during the convention. The group from Biden's home state is positioned directly in front of the stage and will no doubt be targeted by prime time television cameras when the vice president warms up for his boss.
So far, the experience hasn't disappointed the men whose political activities have included not only work on campus, but also involvement with local elections and the state party. Miller said the more celebrated speeches in prime time by figures like first lady Michelle Obama have generated as much excitement among the party faithful as they have media chatter in the outside world.
Miller, though, also has enjoyed speeches by figures like Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker and current Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. He said Patrick’s impassioned call for the party to grow a backbone and be proud of its accomplishments — he cited maintaining the student loan interest rate at 3.2 percent as one that resonates with his generation — galvanized the crowds around the theme of unity and inclusion.
While the chance to see the party’s future stars speechify their way into the national consciousness, the highlight so far, though, has probably been getting to cast a vote to re-nominate Obama.
“It was one thing to be able to cast a ballot for Obama as a citizen, but to be able to represent Democrats in the state of Kentucky in my capacity as a delegate was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had,” Miller said. “To say it was cool doesn’t do it justice.”
Shewmaker has not been on the floor for the proceedings, instead taking in each night’s speakers during watch parties with others who have traveled to Charlotte. He said he has gotten to see the city — including a trip delegates took to the Richard Petty Driving Experience — but above all has enjoyed doing much more listening than talking as he learns from the stories of fellow party members from across the country.
“I wish it was an experience more people had,” Shewmaker said. “One of the things I’m going to bring back with me is to try and get more people involved at this level of politics.”