Liberty University students Brian Diaz and Joel Krautter spent most of election night glued to a big-screen TV, watching restlessly as the returns poured in over a period of hours.
Diaz, 18, and Krautter, 20, did not keep this anxious vigil in a dorm room or student lounge. Nor did they gather at the Vines Center, where thousands of their classmates congregated to watch the results and enjoy music and food courtesy of the school.
Rather, these two young students joined a boisterous party of local Obama supporters, an event crowded with eager Democrats.
Diaz, dressed neatly in a sweater vest and slacks, and Krautter, who was wearing a dark suit, count themselves among those ranks. The two are among the few Democrats roaming the overwhelmingly conservative LU campus, and are also co-founders of a new college Democrats club.
“We thought there should be more political equality, that both sides should be represented on campus,” explained Krautter, a sophomore majoring in pre-law.
“It’s not like one party’s the Jesus party,” added Diaz, a freshman studying government and politics. “We want to show them that.”
The members of the new Liberty University College Democrats club are undoubtedly outnumbered. On Election Day, their counterparts flooded the polls and succeeded in keeping Lynchburg red, although the state itself and the nation went to Democrat Barack Obama.
Diaz and Krautter rejoiced with other partygoers when Obama’s victory was announced. Diaz dished out a high five to a friend, while Krautter took a picture of a TV screen bearing the historic words “President-elect Barack Obama.”
It’s unlikely there was much celebration happening across town on the LU campus. During convocation Wednesday, Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. sought to cheer his students up, offering a pep talk that reminded them of all they had accomplished this campaign season.
“I think I was able to get them to look at the big picture,” said Falwell, noting a similar funk had fallen over the campus when Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976 — just four years before the “Reagan Revolution” would begin.
Falwell pointed out several high notes to his students, including the fact LU drew national attention this year for its wildly successful voter registration drive, which added 4,200 students to the voter rolls and proved a decisive factor in the local outcome.
“They were cheering about that, and about the fact they made the difference here in Lynchburg,” he said.
Falwell also urged Republican students to refrain from taking the loss personally — or from taking it out on their Democratic counterparts on campus.
“My father always said you can disagree without being disagreeable, and that’s the message we’re trying to teach these kids,” he said. “… We’re all part of the same LU community.”
Diaz and Krautter said they do take some good-natured ribbing about their political views, but rarely suffer malicious attacks.
Similarly, both said they felt no frustration with their conservative peers or the fact the LU influence caused a loss for their candidate locally.
“The important thing is people are getting involved in the political process, whatever their view is,” said Krautter. “It’s great they’re participating.”
Diaz added he found the challenging conditions to be a source of motivation.
“It’s inspiring me to keep working,” he said.
The LU Democrats held an inaugural meeting shortly before the election. Krautter said a group of around 90 showed up. The club plans to maintain an active presence on campus, and contribute to future elections.
“This is just the beginning,” Krautter said.
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