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AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS year's presidential campaign, it was generally thought that Senator George McGovern would capture the majority of the college vote. But according to a recent Newsweek poll. Richard Nixon now commands fully 48 per cent of the campus vote.
The person who has engineered this shift among college students is Ken Reitz, a slick 30-year-old senior partner in a Washington public relations fim. A graduate of George Washington University. Reitz has been interested in national politics since his college days when he worked as a volunteer in Nixon's 1960 Presidential bid.
After Nixon's defeat, Reitz became involved in a number of campaigns, eventually ending up in Tennessee where he masterminded the huge young voter turnout for Senator William Brock (R.Tenn.). Brock was so impressed by the organizational skills of the young Republican that he asked him to draft a proposal for capturing the youth vote for Nixon's re-election attempt. In April of 1971. Brock introduced Reitz and his proposal at the White House, and Reitz soon found himself as the full-time paid director of Young Voters for the President.
It was Reitz's feeling that the youth campaign should be organized from the top down. Hiring 120 people for his Washington staff. Reitz went into the field and recruited a number of young businessmen and lawyers to act as state chairmen, and then had them organize county and district chairmen from local youth.
Reitz now claims that he has Young Voters for the President organizations in all 50 states with a total of 400.000 volunteers. In addition, he said in an interview lastweek. "We have organizations on 400 of the largest ampuses in the country with between 150.000 and 200.000 college volunteers."
While Reitz was shifting the gears of his political machine into motion, he began thinking of ways to approach young voters. "The first thing we did," he said, "was to take a look at the polls. We began to see that there was a large gap in the level of support for the President's programs and the level of support for the President. In other words, young people were for what the President was doing, but not for the President. We saw it as our job to identify the President more closely with his programs, to close the gap between his popularity and the popularity of his programs."
According to Reitz, the issues the President is strongest on are the end of the draft, his Vietnam policy, and his stand on human rights. Reitz says that people who accuse Nixon of maliciously continuing the bombing in Vietnam, wrecking the economy, sowing racial discord and stifling student dissent are simply misinformed.
TO EDUCATE YOUNG VOTERS about Nixon, Reitz has decided not to use a hard-sell media campaign of advertising on campus radio and in college papers. He has opted instead to campaign on a person-to-person basis using the myriad Nixon youth offices as focal points.
The offices range in size from one room set-ups staffed entirely by students to more complex offices with full-time secretaries. Some officers on the West Coust even have separate desks for the Spanish Speeking Youth for Nixon and Oriental Youth for Nixon. Posters of Nixon adorn the walls of all the offices, and rock music blares almost continuously from radios.
In addition to the offices he's set up across the country. Reitz has over 2000 campus speakers who receive materials from central headquarters twice a week. The speakers read up on the latest changes in Nixon policy, and then spread the word by speaking with groups of ten or more.
"We've canvassed just about every campus." Reitz said, "and we've identified the Nixon. McGovern and undecided voters. We've contacted all of the Nixon supporters and told them what they can do for the President, and we've talked with the undecided voters to get them to identify the President with his accomplishments."
Reitz says that Nixon has his strongest support among college students on campuses in the South and in the Midwest. The western campuses are split, while the Northeast remains heavily in favor of McGovern.
"Regionalism is an important factor in voting behavior." Reitz explained. "And college students, just like other voters in the Northeast, are leaning toward McGovern." Reitz said that he got a late start in organizing on campuses in the Northeast, but that he has dispatched several full-time people to step up the effort.
ONE OF THE CRITICAL PERIODS in the Reitz drive for the youth vote came immediately after the Democratic Convention when everyone was praising the Democrats as the party of the young and accusing the Republican Party of shutting out the nation's youth. Top Republican leadership thought a younger face as head of the Young Voters for the President might be more appealing. Twenty-four-year-old Pam Pollo was hastily given the title of National Chairman of Young Voters for the President, while Reitz retained the title and power of National Director.
When the Republican Convention finally rolled around, the galleries of the convention hall were filled with screaming young supporters for the President, and Reitz was accused of paying young people to attend. But Reitz says his critics are off-base. "We had 3200 young people down there, all of whom paid their own way," he said. "After they had worked that hard for something, it was hard to control their enthusiasm."
Although enthusiasm was a problem at the Republican Convention, Reitz says that one of his major problems is to get those students who support Nixon clandestinely to come forward and become more enthusiastic about their choice for president. "Up until now," Reitz said, "young people have been afraid to come out and say that they're for the President."
What enthusiasm Reitz has been able to generate seems to be snowballing, and a chapter of Young Voters for the President was recently established at Harvard. Reitz cites such gains on other traditionally liberal campuses as evidence of Nixon's mounting strength among college students. "By election day." Reitz confidently predicts, "we'll have 51 per cent of the college vote."
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