Early birds for Barack 

Presidential Politics

The next presidential election is more than a year and a half away, but here in Missoula a group of students have already gotten the campaign started.

On Feb. 21, Students for Barack Obama, the first and so far only group of University of Montana students backing a 2008 presidential candidate, met at the campus center for the first time to begin planning a strategy for the many months ahead.

“This is the most important election for president in 20 years,” said Nathan Kosted, chapter director of Students for Barack Obama, a national organization.

Kosted, 23, and three others at the gathering worked together on the campaign to elect Jon Tester to the U.S. Senate last year. An enthusiastic grassroots campaign helped Tester defeat incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns, and Kosted believes the national campaign is no different.

“Tester makes you feel like you can make a difference,” he said.

Kosted said he will keep to the same strategy in the presidential election he employed with Tester: get the word out.

And Kosted has already proved that a little small talk goes a long way. Only seven students showed up to sign the chapter membership list the first night. By 5 o’clock the next day he was turning in the 20 signatures needed for recognition as an official student group.

The 18- to 29-year-olds Kosted is gathering are often considered absent around election time, but he thinks a new spirit of participation may be changing that notion. That, and Facebook.

The online social networking site already has two Obama groups. Barack Obama: One Million Strong started Jan. 16 and within an hour had 100 members. A month and a half later it has nearly 300,000.

Campaign season is taking off, nationally and technologically, and Hollywood dinners are getting most of the media attention. Meanwhile, groups like Kosted’s are thinking of ways, beyond money, to help their candidate win.

“Maybe we could go to Iowa for winter break and help them out with their campaign over there?” Kosted asked.

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