Actors and activists Kal Penn and John Cho, the stars of "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle," campaigned at colleges across North Carolina Tuesday on behalf of Hillary Clinton. Penn and Cho met with students at North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University to discuss the issues at stake in the election and highlight Clinton's New College Compact. The Chronicle spoke with Penn and Cho Tuesday night about their campus visits, their message to voters and what they care most about in the election.
The Chronicle: What has been your main message to voters, and specifically young voters, on this college tour?
John Cho: I give up. I’m punchy from the end of the day.
Kal Penn: That was John. Don’t attribute that to Kal. Our biggest message is that North Carolina is a huge battleground state. There are 17 days to early vote. That means you can actually register and vote. Particularly for a lot of our friends at Duke who are from out of state and just moved here and consider themselves residents of North Carolina, now they can legally register and vote. The stakes are very high in the election. If you’re worried about college affordability, look at both candidates' plans. We believe Secretary Clinton has by far the better plan. It also helps that Trump has no plan. Specifically, President Obama doubled the Pell Grant, and Secretary Clinton promised to maintain that and expand it with free public university if you make under $125,000. And she has a way to pay for that. The stakes are very high for young folks in North Carolina, and we’re encouraging them to vote early.
TC: What’s the biggest issue that’s at stake for you in this election?
JC: This is John Cho, the star of Harold and Kumar. Hmm. I would pick this one. I’m an immigrant, and I feel like this election is a very important choice because we’re deciding what kind of America we are. The world is watching, and I want America to continue to be an example of democracy to the rest of the world. I feel like one person is going to manifest that, and the other person is going to tear that down. I want to be proud of our country, and know that it welcomes all immigrants and is tolerant of all religions and sexualities and races. It's really about choosing the personality and soul and character of our country.
KP: For me, access to education is a huge issue for most young people—whether they choose to go to college, have the means to go to college, decide to go to trade school or into the workforce. Of course, the way we invest in education affects all that. I mentioned the Pell Grant being doubled over the last eight years to $5,500. Secretary Clinton adopted Bernie Sanders’ college affordability plan, making sure that public colleges and universities are free for families that make less than $125,000 a year, paying for it by closing corporate tax loopholes in a really smart way. That doesn’t just increase accessibility to colleges and universities, it’s also really smart for manufacturing and blue collar jobs. A lot of our Republican friends don’t believe that we should publicly invest in education, but when countries like India, China, Brazil and most of countries in Europe are doing it, it puts us at a competitive disadvantage in the global job market if we’re not investing in the same thing. The fact the Donald Trump doesn’t believe we should publicly invest in education—none of the Republicans do—that’s a critical difference between the candidates.
TC: Do you think there are voters that are still undecided at this point? What do you say to them?
KP: I think you would have to ask voters if they’re still undecided. We’ve been seeing a lot of great energy across North Carolina on all these college campuses. We wish we could have come to Duke. I think the biggest takeaway is not just the energy, but the questions they’re asking. We make remarks and ask people to sign up to volunteer for Secretary Clinton. But really the questions they’re asking at our events are really poignant questions about the economy and national security and immigration and education. That’s been really exciting. I don’t know how many are undecided and how many aren’t, but the energy is definitely there.
TC: Anything else you want to add about this kind of crazy, unprecedented election?
KP: In President Obama’s first election in 2008, which seems like a long time ago but really wasn’t, young voters decided the state of North Carolina. It went in favor of Barack Obama because young people registered to vote and actually came out to vote. If you look at the margin by which youth vote increased and the margin by which Obama won North Carolina, it is virtually the same number. Pew Research did a big article on this comparing North Carolina to Ohio. So the stakes couldn’t be higher. I think that’s the biggest message and why North Carolina is getting so much attention. It’s why we’re encouraging people to get out there and vote early and take five of your friends to the polls. It’s very possible for young people to sway the election one way or the other, and I think the stakes are very high.
JC: We feel like there’s one person who’s been shooting jumpers in the gym for days—for 30 years—like J.J. Reddick. Then someone else comes along and wants to rob the spot. I’m not having it. Okay, I’m getting punchy.
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TC: For fans of Harold and Kumar, have you been to White Castle, and what did you think?
JC: I have been to White Castle. I’m not going to lie and say they are the best burger in the universe.
JC: But I do love the caramelized onions. And I will always have a special place in my heart for White Castle burgers.