When it comes to the 2008 race for president, Krystal Jumping Elk, a freshman at Haskell Indian Nations University, says only one candidate is thinking about issues important to American Indians. And after former Sen. Tom Daschle, of South Dakota, campaigned at Haskell for Barack Obama in late January, Jumping Elk said many of her classmates began to support the Illinois senator.
"He stands for change. He has a lot of native issues on the table. We need someone to put that out there," Jumping Elk, 19, said.
She spent Saturday canvassing Lawrence with other volunteers from the Obama campaign as part of a nationwide effort to register voters. More than 100 events, including in Kansas City, Kan., and Overland Park, sought to bring new and lapsed voters into the contentious Democratic race, where Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton are trading barbs in pursuit of valuable superdelegates and state primary victories.
"Since Feb. 5, we haven't done much in Kansas. This is our kickoff for the next six months," said volunteer Clarissa Unger, a Kansas University junior who was elected to represent the state at the Democratic National Convention.
Unger, Jumping Elk and other volunteers gathered at KU's Burge Union, where Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, and former KU basketball star Bud Stallworth spoke to nearly 30 supporters; organizers said they expected up to 50 people to participate.
Stallworth, who grew up in Alabama in the racially divided 1950s and 1960s, said, "Dreams were dreams back then. As an African-American growing up in the South, you didn't have a lot of rights.
"When we talk about change, I know things can be changed."
Sebelius said only 1.2 million Kansans voted in the last presidential election; there are 2.1 million Kansans eligible to vote.
"One of the things Senator Obama knows about this country is that there are a lot of people whose voices are not being heard, whose lives are not counted when you look at politics in this country," she said, describing the need to lock in voters who could "change the electoral map in this country for decades to come."
"There are way too many 20-somethings who have been tuned out and turned off," Sebelius said.
But, she said, Obama's campaign has ignited "some of the most exciting voter registration and turnout efforts I've ever seen in my lifetime. : We were losing a generation of voters, and they are showing up, not only in Kansas, but all around the country."
She said Obama is moving closer to securing the party nomination, but predicted Clinton would win upcoming contests in West Virginia and Kentucky. He swept the Kansas caucus on Feb. 5, winning more than 73 percent of the vote.
Lawrence resident Barbara Lauter shared the governor's sentiment. She said she is concerned about the divisiveness in Washington.
"This is a last chance to right our country," she said. "I think we need a whole new philosophy and a new leader.
"It doesn't hurt that he has a Kansas mother," she said. "Kansas common sense."