There's good news from college campuses for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.): Students clearly prefer him over President Bush in this fall's election. The bad news? College students express a declining belief in the importance of voting and the relevance of politics to their lives.

These are among the findings of a recent nationwide poll of college students conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Panetta Institute for Public Policy.

Although both presidential campaigns are courting the campus vote, Kerry seems to have the most to lose from students' growing indifference. The poll found 42 percent of college students backing Kerry, with 30 percent for Bush and 4 percent for Ralph Nader. Kerry's challenge will be getting them to the polls Nov. 2.

"There is a downward trend in the perception that voting is a way to change society," the Hart analysis says. "In March 2001, almost half [47 percent] of students felt that voting in elections for president was a way to bring about a lot of change in society." Only 35 percent now feel that way. "Few American college students believe that politics is very relevant in their life," the survey found.

Maybe Kerry should target the Shakespeare students and leave the computer nerds to Bush. More than 70 percent of humanities majors said politics was relevant to their daily lives, compared with 36 percent of computer science students.

Initiative Averted

Call it the Lisa Murkowski rule, although the Republican senator doubtlessly has mixed feelings about it.

Alaska recently enacted a law curbing the governor's powers to fill U.S. Senate vacancies. Gov. Frank H. Murkowski (R) knows a thing or two about the subject, because when he left his Senate seat to become governor in December 2002, he appointed his daughter Lisa to complete his term, ending in January 2005.

The long-term appointment angered some Alaskans, who cried nepotism and circulated a ballot initiative that would ban such arrangements in the future. That sounded like trouble to a new senator, fighting for a full, six-year term of her own this fall.

As University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato put it: "How many people are going to vote for the initiative and then vote for her?"

So the GOP-controlled legislature stepped in, passing a bill to make the initiative unnecessary. Under the bill -- which Gov. Murkowski let become law without his signature -- the state must hold a special election to fill any future Senate vacancy within 90 days.

Sen. Murkowski still faces challenges on the 2004 ballot. Former state senator Mike Miller opposes her in the Aug. 24 GOP primary, with former governor Tony Knowles (D) awaiting the survivor in November.

For DeMint, an Endorsement

Rep. Jim DeMint picked up a key endorsement in his bid for the GOP nomination to replace retiring Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.). Charleston businessman Thomas Ravenel, who finished third with 25 percent of the vote in the June 8 primary, endorsed DeMint, who took 26 percent. DeMint faces former governor David Beasley -- who led the pack with 37 percent -- in a June 22 runoff. State Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum (D) awaits the winner.

Political researcher Brian Faler contributed to this report.