Can Falwell's University Tip Virginia To McCain? As part of a strategy to get Liberty University's 10,000 students to vote, the school founded by the late Jerry Falwell will cancel classes on Election Day, bus students to the polls and lift curfew so students can watch the results on TV.
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Can Falwell's University Tip Virginia To McCain?

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Can Falwell's University Tip Virginia To McCain?

Can Falwell's University Tip Virginia To McCain?

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This year's presidential campaign is coming down to a handful of key states. One is a state that has gone Republican for the past 44 years. Virginia is changing. Democrats are gaining strength there, and Barack Obama is nearly tied with John McCain in the state. McCain is counting on support from places like two areas that we're visiting on the show this morning. One is the state's conservative western mountains, and the other is an evangelical university founded by the late Jerry Falwell. That school is doing its best to keep Virginia red, as NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: A few weeks ago, Jerry Falwell, Jr. delivered a high-minded message to the students at Liberty University. The chancellor spoke of their civic responsibility to vote. Then he made an announcement.

JERRY FALWELL: We are planning to cancel classes on Election Day just as...


BRADLEY HAGERTY: It's part of a grand strategy to get Liberty's 10,000 students to vote in Virginia. They'll bus students to the polls, stage an all-day concert complete with food, and lift curfew so students can watch the results on a giant-screen TV.

FALWELL: We never told them how to vote. We didn't even talk about the issues. We just talked about the fact that Virginia was right on the fence and could go either way, and they could become known as the college that elected a president if the numbers came down just right.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Falwell says that 80 to 90 percent of his students are Republican. But not all are registered to vote in Virginia. So the school told dorm leaders like Kathryn Llewellyn to see to it that everyone had the proper forms.

KATHRYN LLEWELLYN: We had to go around that night to every room and make sure if anybody wanted to register, they could. Even in class the next day, for commuters, if they didn't get registration forms, the professors were handing them out.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And it worked. For example, Sarah Blanzy switched her registration from North Carolina to Virginia because...

SARAH BLANZY: North Carolina is going to go red. I'm not really too worried about that. And I'm nervous about the outcome of Virginia. And I feel like my vote might be a little more important here.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: We're meeting in the university's Jesse Helms School of Government. Senior Grace Woodson, who attended the Republican National Convention, says Barack Obama's dynamism may appeal to some young people, but students at Liberty look for something else: conservative values.

GRACE WOODSON: I think with McCain, he proves with his life his Christian values. And his whole life has been about sacrifice. And I think that's something that us Christians see as really important.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And with Obama leading slightly in the polls, junior Chandler Smith says no vote can be wasted. In fact, several recent state elections for governor, attorney general, and U.S. senator were decided by fewer than 10,000 votes.

CHANDLER SMITH: Based upon the numbers, moving conservative voters - either from Georgia like myself, or from across the nation to a swing state like Virginia - where we are all like-minded, when we all vote the same way it could have a significant impact on the election.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: So do any of you guys know an Obama supporter?

DANIEL FIERRO: I've seen them but...


FIERRO: I do, but he transferred.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Finally, I locate two live Obama supporters, not through the College Democrats club - there isn't one here - but through the Obama campaign. Brian Diaz is a freshman from Orlando. I asked him what his classmates say when they find out he's voting Democrat.

BRIAN DIAZ: Well, at first they ask me, are you a Christian?

BRADLEY HAGERTY: But Diaz and sophomore Joel Krautter believe they're making inroads. On Monday, they manned an Obama table on campus, and Krautter says they were thrilled with the results.

JOEL KRAUTTER: Oh, we had a great turnout here. We had an astounding amount of people sign up for the campaign.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Like, how many, would you say?

KRAUTTER: A hundred and fifty.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Well, it's a start. And both men believe Virginia can go blue, but not if these Liberty students have anything to say about it. Late Tuesday night, 50 women crowded into a large dormitory room for their weekly hall meeting of announcements. The recurring topic...

LLEWELLYN: How many of you guys have registered to vote? Wow, a lot. One, two, three, four...

BRADLEY HAGERTY: All but three women raised their hands.

LLEWELLYN: OK. So, 46, wow. Awesome, guys.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And for those last few stragglers, they have until the end of the day to sign up. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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