AMES, IOWA ---- On election night, about three dozen Iowa State University students gathered in a lecture hall to eat pizza, watch the news and track electoral votes on a chalk board. At about 10:30 p.m. their chairman, Kyle Etzel, ducked out to do an interview with the student television station. At that point, things weren’t looking great for Mitt Romney, but there were still a lot of votes out in Ohio and Florida.
As Etzel waited to go on, he hit refresh on the Fox News Web site on his phone and saw the electoral votes shift to Obama. He knew Romney had lost. Soon the television networks would be calling the race. His heart sank.
Etzel numbly did the interview and then walked back into the lecture hall. There were only about 10 students still sitting there, obsessively watching the Ohio returns, praying that the election could still change. The room was eerily quiet.
“In the past few months, we’ve been working so hard on this. And in a few hours, you watch it all come to an end,” said Etzel, 20, a junior business major from Minnesota. “I imagine it’s the same as following your football team to the Super Bowl and then watch it all go to heck right before your eyes.”
The take-away from the heartbreak? Etzel said the Republican Party has to change. It has to pay attention to college voters. It has to chase every vote, just like Obama did when he visited campus in August and wooed student voters with the help of big-name celebrities.
“And Mitt Romney? The most he did is come to town for an event off campus,” said Etzel, who only got a few hours of sleep Monday night ahead of the election. “We have a campus of 31,000 people. We could have turned out a little more of that if the Republican Party paid more attention to colleges.”
Etzel believes that Romney could have been “the next Ronald Reagan,” that Romney and Ryan could have been the “comeback team” the country needed. He’s worried about where the country is headed -- values wise, but also economically, as the national debt balloons and will have to be paid off by his generation. He’s worried about Obama’s foreign policy. He’s worried about finding a job after graduation. He’s worried that gas prices are only going to continue to go up, consuming more and more of his monthly budget.
It was worries like that, he said, that pushed student volunteers to plaster the campus with Romney-Ryan signs and canvas for local Republican candidates.
He’s frustrated that they couldn’t convince enough other people of the same thing. He questions if he really understands this country.
“I hate to say it, but I think we need to learn a lesson from the campaign strategies of Barack Obama. Obviously he’s doing something right,” Etzel said, as his cell phone filled with text messages from friends with condolences. “I frankly believe he’s the worst president we’ve ever had, and he’s been elected twice.”
Etzel took a deep breath. The lecture hall slowly emptied. Another student erased the black board.
In a bar across campus, the College Democrats celebrated. Their party grew larger and larger, louder and louder as they waited for President Obama to give his acceptance speech.
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