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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 years old could shake up the presidential race. For the 2008 election, an estimated 50 million of them will be registered to vote. So it's no surprise that the candidates have blanketed campuses across the country including here in South Carolina.

So will South Carolina's younger voters continue the trend?

Here to give us some insight on young voters' likes, dislikes and expectations are three college students: Jacqueline Flemons, second-year law student at the University of South Carolina located right here in Columbia; also, Dameone Ferguson, he's a senior at the historically black college, Voorhees College, in Denmark, South Carolina; and Shun Griffin, a sophomore at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.

Welcome, folks.

Ms. JACQUELINE FLEMONS (Student, University of South Carolina, Columbia): Hi.

Mr. DAMEONE FERGUSON (Student, Voorhees College, South Carolina): Welcome.

Mr. SHUN GRIFFIN (Student, Furman University, South Carolina; Upstate Coordinator; Young Americans for Edwards Campaign, South Carolina): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So, Jacqueline, let me start with you. What do you think has really happened in South Carolina as a result of all of these candidates really focusing on your state? Do you feel loved?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FLEMONS: I think that will be an accurate description. It's more of a feeling, like, for the fist time we actually might have a say in this state, in such a deeply Republican state. This might be an actual time for us to express how we feel and just feel lucky to be included in the democratic process.

CHIDEYA: Shun, I understand you're campaigning for a certain candidate. Who? And tell us what you're doing.

Mr. GRIFFIN: Yes, I'm supporting Senator John Edwards for president. I'm his, actually, his upstate coordinator for the Young Americans for Edwards. I'm one of the many interns here in the state of South Carolina. I think he's a genuine gentleman from South Carolina. He's working hard for American people. And most importantly, he brought the main issue of poverty to the forefront between the three top candidates in the Democratic Party, which I think is very crucial for states like South Carolina.

CHIDEYA: Tomorrow we're speaking with actor/director/producer Danny Glover, who also supports Senator Edwards. Do you ever get flack from your friends saying, why, what are you doing supporting a white guy? There's the woman; there's a black guy. Why are you supporting a white guy?

Mr. GRIFFIN: Yeah, actually I have. Just a few months ago, I've just finished with (unintelligible) going on to different middle schools and high schools, especially trying to register young people in high schools to vote, and you get that question every once in a while, especially by, you know, black males that are juniors or seniors.

And what I tell them is, you know, we have to go beyond partisanship, but also we have to go beyond, you know, color of candidates or their gender. You know, if we look at Barack Obama, who's a phenomenal guy I think, and if we just elect him because he's African-American, we're doing what every other generation has done in the past. We have to go beyond that and look at the essential qualities and the abilities. And while I think Barack Obama has some great abilities, I do think that experience is important and looking at the issues American people are also crucial as well in this election.

CHIDEYA: Dameone, do you think - first of all, do you have any friends who are like, no way, no how, I'm not voting, it doesn't matter?

Mr. FERGUSON: A lot of our students here at Voorhees College had that mindset at the beginning of this year. And we tried to change that mindset by letting them know to be involved and to get their vote out because if not, we're only going to, basically, be stuck in the past as we were in past situations by electing officials because we did not want our voices to be heard. Because that we - everybody thinks it's a more seasoned thing for people to do, especially the older people. They think that's what it's for. It's an older people kind of thing to do. And we just want to let them know that it's not just older people but us that actually has the voice to decide who holds the future of our country.

CHIDEYA: So, what's been going on at Voorhees? Who's been going out and trying to get people motivated?

Mr. FERGUSON: Well, we have a partnership with South Carolina State University located at Orangeburg, South Carolina, and also Claflin University, in which we designate a couple of our students to go up there, and we have been sponsoring rallies in which we had cousin Jeff Johnson(ph) and different primary surrogates come out and speak on behalf of each political candidate.

More, I guess, geared at Voorhees we have had Danny Glover speak on the behalf of John Edwards on yesterday evening. And on this evening we have SNCC organization members come to speak on the behalf of Barack Obama. And on tomorrow we have individuals speaking on the behalf - excuse me - Michelle Obama speaking on the behalf of, again, Barack Obama.

I think that once you involve all these celebrities or people of high caliber in these elections, people tend to want to flock towards those individuals because they know who they are, and they, kind of, feel they can relate to them. So I think that by involving these individuals in this process help students and younger voters realize, well, I do have a voice because, hey, Danny Glover is telling me I have a voice, or Danny Glover is telling me that he's going out to vote, so I want to be just like him, and I'm going to cast my vote.

CHIDEYA: All right, lady and gentlemen, I want you guys to stick with us. We are getting ready to go to a break, but we are going to be back with more of the student perspective on politics in South Carolina.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

We've been talking about the youth vote and what it's going to mean for Saturday's primary in South Carolina. With us we've got three students: Jacqueline Flemons, she's a second-year law student at the University of South Carolina; also, Dameone Ferguson, he's a senior at Voorhees College, in Denmark, South Carolina; and Shun Griffin, a sophomore at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.

So, welcome back, folks.

And, Jacqueline, I'm going to go straight to you. Issues, issues, issues, we have been talking today about education, about the economy. If you have to name one issue that is really motivating you, what would it be and what do you want?

Ms. FLEMONS: I guess if I have to pick one issue that's really motivating my vote, it would be health care. It's something that's really important to me, and I think for a lot of people in our generation, a lot of college students or students who are over the age of 25 do not necessarily have health care from their parents. It may work for employers who can afford to provide them with adequate health care. So I think that a lot of the plans for which the Democratic candidates have laid out would definitely solve those issues for, particularly, people of my age range.

CHIDEYA: Dameone, what would be your number one issue?

Mr. FERGUSON: My number one issue is education. A lot of - if I had not - if it was not for financial aid, then I think a lot of - especially African-Americans will now have the opportunity to educate themselves by going to institution of higher learning.

So I think that with the plans that each Democratic candidate has put into place that we can have a brighter future by involving ourselves in the political arena and by casting our votes, because if not, then we're only dooming ourselves and our futures as far as our educational pursuits.

CHIDEYA: Shun, what about you? What comes to mind?

Mr. GRIFFIN: I think good education. I think that it's crucial, especially in a state like South Carolina that we have to make sure we have resources to send folks to post-secondary educational types of studies. We have to make sure that financial aids not only enhances the abilities and the opportunities, but also the federal government also takes initiative to take some of these large loans that students are taking out and probably offering some relief of it. You know, financial aid is only a small stepping stone to get in college. But I also think that by educating our younger people, making sure funds are available, sending them to the proper schools that they can have a better opportunity at life, and particularly for states like South Carolina, that is very important.

CHIDEYA: Shun, you've mentioned that you support Senator Edwards. Jacqueline, you are undecided?

Ms. FLEMONS: That's correct.

CHIDEYA: All right. What are you trying to hear? What are you trying to hear from folks as they cycle through the state in order to help you make up your mind?

Ms. FLEMONS: Well, I identify myself as an independent. I was raised to vote on the issues and not for a particular party. And in general I believe that we need to make sure that we understand what is important to us before we identify ourselves with any political party.

So for me right now, I really - I guess one of the most important issues for me is deciding which Democratic candidate could be viable and actually compete against a Republican. And so that's it and I'm - I guess mulling over and trying to figure out as far as making my final decision.

CHIDEYA: So none of the Republican candidates appeal to you?

Ms. FLEMONS: No. I would say if there were any, it would, of course, have been John McCain. But I definitely decided to forgo the Republican primary, which took place last week and I will be returning to Charleston to vote in a Democratic primary on Saturday. So I have a lot of thinking to do in the next few days.

CHIDEYA: Dameone, do you find that there is a conversation around political parties and whether or not people, for example, who are independent, have enough choices? Do you guys talk about, well, I want to have more variety in the candidates or are you satisfied with the variety of candidates that you've got this time around?

Mr. FERGUSON: For myself, I believe that I like the candidates that are all running. I think they all have potential. As far as others being involved outside of myself, I think that they don't have option because media only gives you a couple of candidates to really - are at the forefront.

So I think that if media, basically, gives everyone the equal opportunity to get their voices heard or to get their, basically, their stances on the political issues, then, I think that they'll have an equal chance. But as of right now, I only think they're only are offering a couple of candidates that opportunity, and it's not fair for everyone. But again, I like the options that we have now, but a lot of students really don't because they feel that they don't have - they're only limiting themselves.

CHIDEYA: Jacqueline, let me ask you about - since you are undecided - a factor, which is age. A lot of people have talked about Barack Obama as part of a new generation. He's not 25, but he is 46. John McCain is 71, who's name you brought up. Does age influence how you think about people at all, generations?

Ms. FLEMONS: I wouldn't say directly, but I think that deep down, a lot of younger voters are definitely trying to look for a candidate for which they identify with and who they think will represent and support the ideals that they think are issues that our society should address. And so I think that that may play a large factor when you look at candidates like McCain and Barack Obama. Younger voters are definitely looking for a candidate who they think will, you know, work for them as well as for the older generations.

CHIDEYA: Are any of you guys interested in possibly running for office one day?

Ms. FLEMONS: What I can say is as a female I'm definitely interested in running for office. As you've stated, I am a student at the University of South Carolina School of Law, and I actually hosted an event in November called "Southern Ladies in Politics" to discuss why women in South Carolina don't run for office. And part of the reason is because they just don't run. If they ran, they would have a great chance of winning. And I definitely think that that's something that I might be interested in, in the future.

Mr. GRIFFIN: Yeah. I can say for myself, too, and I agree with that. I can - I have some things in mind, but, you know, I'm going back to Furman right now, I'm actually in the election for student body vice president and make it the first African-American there. I was the first African-American class president there.

And, you know, I think it's crucial that we start at such young age in getting involved, being motivating, encouraging folks to take part in the democratic process. As far as minorities in South Carolina, I do think that our generation will be a generation to actually elect an African-American governor of South Carolina, you know, just make the legislature diverse as it possibly can.

CHIDEYA: Dameone, any thoughts?

Mr. FERGUSON: Yes.

CHIDEYA: Are you going to say, keep on voting?

Mr. FERGUSON: Of course, I'm going to keep on voting because I feel that if I don't keep voting, I'm not going to have my voice heard. And as the young man just articulated, in my campaign as SGA president for my institution, I always make sure that the student body made sure that their voices were heard. And I think that's something that we keep pushing toward the - to the forefront, that your voices to be heard.

And we have such a rich history or a legacy of encouraging our students to have that voice because if not, you're only limiting yourself, and not only yourself, but your community and your family. So I think that if we just keep pushing the efforts, or the youth to vote and make their voices heard, then it can change the mindsets and change people's views of how the voting process is basically ran.

CHIDEYA: Well, I just want to thank all of you leaders for joining us here. Thank you.

Mr. GRIFFIN: Thank you.

Ms. FLEMONS: Thank you.

Mr. FERGUSON: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: We've been speaking with Shun Griffin, a sophomore at Furman University; second-year law student Jacqueline Flemons who's at the University of South Carolina. They both joined me here in the studios of South Carolina ETV. Also spoke with Dameone Ferguson who attends the historically black college Voorheese in Denmark, South Carolina. He joined us by phone.

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