Professors, students weigh in on Republican candidates best for students

By Gwenn Barney

With the Republican primary debates heating up and the Iowa Caucus a little more than four… With the Republican primary debates heating up and the Iowa Caucus a little more than four months away, Pitt professors and student leaders say that students should be aware of presidential candidates’ positions on issues.

But there’s no consensus among politically aware members of Pitt’s campus as to which Republican candidate would benefit students the most if elected president.

The Republican field currently holds 10 announced candidates. As of Sunday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry leads the pack in many major polls, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney close behind.

Pitt political science professor Kristin Kanthak said it is difficult to tell which candidate will be the most beneficial for students in this particular primary because education has not been a hot topic among candidates. However, she flagged Perry as a potential proponent of higher education.

“Rick Perry is more supportive of education than he’s making himself out to be right now,” Kanthak said.

She cited the Texas governor’s policy of allowing illegal immigrants who grew up in Texas to receive in-state college tuition as an example.

Brandon Myers, a political science Ph.D candidate teaching American Political Process this semester, said he agreed that education has taken a backseat to the economy in these primaries. But he said that Romney’s solution to the country’s economic problems might make him the best candidate for students planning to enter the workforce in the near future.

“All the candidates are emphasizing that the economy is in bad shape and that government has gotten way too big,” Myers said. “Romney is emphasizing that he’s going to get the economy going through job creation.”

Other candidates in the race include Rep. Michele Bachmann, Georgia businessman Herman Cain, who pulled out a surprise victory in the Florida straw poll after finishing fifth in the Iowa straw poll, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, Rep. Ron Paul, former Louisiana Gov. Charles “Buddy” Roemer and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum., a website that collects numerous polls and charts the progress of candidates’ popularity, shows that through Sept. 25, Perry led most polls with Romney, the only candidate close behind him. A Gallup poll has Perry at 31 percent and Romney trailing at 24 percent. Ron Paul is in third place with 13 percent.

Pitt College Republicans president Matt Vermeire said that his organization conducted a straw poll of 30 students two weeks ago, and Perry and Romney came out on top. Romney won the poll receiving 54 percent of students’ votes and Perry came away with 30 percent of the vote.

Like Myers, Vermeire said he believes job creation should be a major area of concern for students in these upcoming elections.

“Possibly the singular greatest concern for students is post-graduation employment,” Vermeire said in an email. “Thus the candidate we must support is the one who can get the economy moving and allow us to be employed in the workforce — a task many in the field are equip to handle, Romney and Huntsman being personal favorites.”

But Vermeire said that as a policy, the Pitt College Republicans don’t endorse candidates before a primary.

Pitt College Democrats president Matthew DiFiore said he doesn’t know which Republican candidate would be the best choice for students.

DiFiore said that all of the candidates want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which allows students to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they’re 26.

However, DiFiore said he believes the race will come down to Romney or Perry.

DiFiore said that because Perry appeals to social conservative and pro-business members of his party, he is a likely to win the Republican nomination.

With candidates like Perry jumping into the race later, the dynamics of the Republicans pool alters.

“Like Jon Stewart said, it’s the reverse of American Idol. It seems that each week we have new candidates entering the race,” said Kristen Allen, a political science Ph.D candidate who is also teaching American Political Process this semester.

Although the field of candidates appears large this year with 10 declared candidates vying for one coveted spot, Myers said that the number of candidates in this primary is typical.

“There are more candidates, but not that many more,” he said, noting that historically the number of candidates in a given primary averages upward of 10 contenders.

DiFiore stressed that students should be aware of the candidates’ stances on the issues, regardless of whether or not the Pennsylvania primary will matter. Pennsylvania is one of the later states to hold its primary, which is set to take place April 24, 2012.

“Students should be aware of what’s going on even though the Republican race will probably be over by the time it gets to Pennsylvania, because the Republican candidate is that person who could get into office,” he said. “We need to be aware of that person’s positions on the issues.”

Allen also emphasized the importance of students paying attention to the Republican primaries and the issues surrounding this race.

“Even if you’re undecided, even if you don’t care, you need to care. In college, you’re at an age where you’re affected by this stuff. Government makes decisions every day that affects you,” Allen said.