The search for the student vote at the University of Maryland begins with a stroll through the campus mall and ends at the appropriately named Hole in the Wall, a dingy little beer joint in the bowels of the student union. There are some 35,000 students out here in College Park, and some of them talk about politics more than usual these days. But one thing becomes clear during a day of watching and listening.
There is no such thing as the student vote.
Long gone are the days when presidential candidates, mostly of the liberal persuasion, could recruit thousands of student volunteers from universities such as Maryland. The sidewalks and hallways on campus are virtually devoid of pamphleteers and bullhorn-toting activists in these closing days of the 1980 campaign.
A few campaign buttons are pinned to carefully pressed lapels and a bumper sticker slapped onto a leather briefcase, but for the most part the presidential campaign presence at Maryland is nil. Even the so-called students' candidate John Anderson has not done more than put together a small, although eager, organization on the campus.
Instead, the student voters, most of whom will cast a presidential ballot for the first time this year, pursue their own private debates each day in campus fraternities, classrooms, on the large green mall that dominates the campus view and in the massive, brick student union building. Over beers, a slice of pizza and the fast food ever present in the student union building, they are voicing the same concerns their parents and neighbors do and are offering similar endorsements.
One of the locales for such debate is the Hole in the Wall, which by late afternoon each day is crowded with students drinking beer, smoking and playing cards on sticky table tops, surrounded by overflowing ashtrays and continual music.
"People have been fighting about politics, verbally I mean, for the last few weeks," said Deborah King, a senior who bartends at the Hole in the Wall. "They yell and scream at each other about this candidate or that. Nobody convinces anybody else but they do it anyway," she said as a line for beer formed out into the hall and a guitar player, huddling over one of the tables, ignored requests for a specific song.
Just outside the beer joint, Mark O'Brien, a jeans-clad junior, leans against the entrance way drinking a paper cupful of Coke, following a cupful of beer, with some friends. A physchology major who, like most Maryland students, commutes to school, O'Brien was one of the much-touted Anderson supporters on campus until about six weeks ago. "I was thinking about Anderson until his percentages dropped too much. Right now it's still a debate for me between Anderson and Carter," he said, "but if I vote for [Anderson] I feel it would be aiding Reagan."
O'Brien, who calls the former California Governor "Darth Reagan" is "scared" by Reagan and what he feels is the imminent possibility of a war under a Reagan administration. When a friend, identified only as a Reagan supporter named "Butch," sauntered over to O'Brien at the Hole in the Wall to publicly declare his continuing support for the Republican candidate, O'Brien, grimacing quipped, "Great, you go fight in a war."
Like O'Brien, other students here were less familiar with or interested in the campaign issues of inflation and the economy, perferring to discuss their concerns about American strength, its perceived decline and the nation's world stature. This was especially common theme for Reagan's student supporters.
Peter LaForce, a sophomore business major, spent several years in the Navy before coming to Maryland and he was willing to go for Carter until the president announced this week that he was willing, as LaForce put it, to "let bygones be bygones" in order to get the hostages back from Iran.
Preferring a Roy Rodgers annex at the union to the Hole in the Wall, LaForce, sitting with several friends, said angrily, "He allowed the world's best economy and most powerful nation to bow down to a bunch of immature mullahs, or whatever they're called."
Skinny, dressed in a close approximation of what was once called the "hippie" uniform, LaForce figures that although there is not that much difference between Carter and Reagan, when he considers the issue of Iran he just cannot vote for Carter.
When the issue of Reagan comes up, Steve Johnson, one of LaForce's companions at the Roy Rodgers, can't help from shaking his head in silence and gazing in disbelief at the ceiling. Johnson doesn't like Reagan but he doesn't like Carter or Anderson a whole lot either. "All I know at this point it will not be for Carter, it will not be for Reagan, it will not be for Anderson. I'll vote but it'll be a protest vote maybe for Ed Clark or Barry Commoner. I think it's time we had a real choice, but Carter and Reagan are as different as white ice cream and vanilla ice cream."
Glenda Cousins, a Baltimore native in her first year at Maryland, said she had some similar feelings about the presidential smorgasbord but decided to narrow her choice to the three major candidates. She considered them throughout the spring, voted with some uncertainty for Carter in the primary and, after deciding that voting for Anderson was "not facing reality," has pretty well decided to stick with Carter on Nov. 4.
"I pretty well feel we don't need a change in the president right now." Reagan, she feels, is antiminority, he has a very bad reputation with me as far as being prejudiced, very prejudiced against minorities in general." Carter, she figures, "has done as good a job as any president," a comment that provokes a dubious glance and "hmmph" from a classmate standing near her on the steps of the student union.
The classmate, whom Cousins knows through her role as president of a fraternity "sweethearts" group, a sort of auxiliary to the fraternity, is senior Kirk Bryant. Bryant, who says he made his way to Maryland from an "urban ghetto" in Baltimore, is an avid Anderson supporter. Preppy, always wearing a fashionably skinny tie, pleated pants and high school ring, Bryant said that Anderson comes across as "honest. I just like the way he talks. He doesn't avoid any questions. He's smart; they've [Carter and Reagan] got to have speech writers to tell them what to say."