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Comparing notes at the National College Media Convention

KANSAS CITY, MS - "Obama's coming to Greensboro," "Palin's speaking in Greenville," "Biden's in Raleigh today" and "McCain is going to be in Fayetteville again?"

This seems like an accurate summary of most of the newsroom conversations I have been having with my co-editor for the past month.

Covering the 2008 presidential election as Local and National Editors of The Chronicle has given us the chance to view the race from the hotly contested state of North Carolina. Talking to other journalists at the National College Media Convention in Kansas City made me fully appreciate the rare opportunity.

"You cover both sides, but in the back of my mind I'm sort of like: this doesn't really matter," said Ben Burg, a senior at California State University at Chico and the assistant news editor for the The Orion student newspaper. The presidential candidates have made few trips to this "solid blue" state, but Burg said their paper had the opportunity to cover speeches by Obama and McCain when they each visited nearby Reno, Nev.

Generic Script

On the Chico campus, the most heated political subjects include California's Proposition 8—a state constitutional amendment that would eliminate same-sex marriage—and Proposition 4—another amendment that would require parental notification for minors seeking an abortion. Managing Editor Genny McLaren, a senior, said her newspaper has focused on trying to make these issues relevant to students. She said this election appears to be drawing greater interest among youth voters despite the state's dark blue status.

Other Chico students pointed to the emergence of Republican and Democratic student groups on campus as signs of activism. They also noted the appearance of an unusual character on campus, who registers students to vote by standing outside the library and using an ironing board as a table. The descriptions seemed eerily reminiscent of Duke's own voter registration guy.

Student journalists at Utah Valley University described the political scene on their campus as mostly Republican and relatively apathetic. They said their paper has developed a notorious reputation on the conservative campus situated in the heart of one of America's reddest states.

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"We get complaints because we're so liberal," said Melinda Pearce, a senior and the lead design editor for the UVU Review. She noted that the Review recently endorsed Sen. Barack Obama in its Monday election supplement. UVU's status as a commuter campus decreases the level of political activism among its students, Pearce said.

"There is a guy that walks around with an Obama sign on a stick, but that's about it," said Trent Baker, a senior and photo editor, who noted that the newspaper had been meaning to take a feature picture of this lone enthusiast.

In a few hours I will be flying back to Duke, and in my e-mail inbox there is a familiar message: "Obama returns to North Carolina as part of a barnstorm tour on Monday." I guess it's just another week in the life of a swing state journalist.

Julia Love contributed reporting

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