By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 15, 2008
RICHMOND, Sept. 14 -- Jerry Falwell Jr., chancellor of socially conservative Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., is launching an ambitious drive to get the school's 10,500 students registered to vote, and he's promising to make buses available to shuttle them to the polls on Election Day.
Falwell, son of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, said he plans to distribute forms at dormitories and in classrooms tomorrow to make sure students register before Virginia's Oct. 6 deadline.
Falwell, whose father founded the school in 1971 and went on to become a leader in efforts to get evangelicals more involved in politics, said he wants in-state and out-of-state students to register in Virginia. The turnout at Liberty could make a crucial difference in this year's election, he said.
"Wouldn't it be something if Liberty's votes were enough to change which presidential candidate won Virginia and maybe even the presidency itself," Falwell said in a statement announcing the initiative.
With Virginia emerging as a crucial state in the presidential race, frantic campaigns are underway at colleges across the state to get first-time voters to register and to persuade those registered in another state to register in Virginia.
Last week, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's campaign dispatched comedian and actor Marlon Wayans and actress Tatyana Ali to the University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville to urge students to register.
"We are seeing a lot of enthusiasm for Senator Obama among this group, and we are going to continue to register voters up until October 6," said Clark Stevens, an Obama spokesman.
But Falwell's efforts to register Liberty students, many of whom might be inclined to support GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), may be an unprecedented step by such a high-ranking college official, political observers say.
On Election Day, Liberty also plans to cancel classes. According to the statement, Falwell is planning "an all-day concert" on campus that will morph into an "election party" when the returns come in.
Falwell is not exaggerating when he says his efforts could shape the outcome of the presidential race in Virginia. Two recent statewide elections -- the U.S. Senate race in 2006 and the attorney general's race in 2005 -- were decided by fewer than 10,000 votes.