MTV bus rallies student voters Credibility: The Choose or Lose bus is on the road, driving presidential politics home to a new generation.

The Political Game

September 17, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

MEMBERS OF Generation MTV came out in the rain yesterday to shrug off the label of apathetic.

They lined up at the side of the radical multicolored "Choose or Lose" bus parked outside Levering Hall on the Johns Hopkins University campus. They were greeted by graffiti-like slogans, drawn from the history of rock 'n' roll as well as from the political Establishment: "If they're not voting," read a quote from former Rep. Lynn Martin plastered on the side of the bus, "we're not touching their hearts and minds."

The message was clear enough, but it got clearer in the lyrics of rapper LL Cool Jay: "How weird do things have to get before you register and vote?"

There is a problem though, according to Coolio in "Gangsta's Paradise: "

"They say I gotta learn, but nobody's here to teach me. If they can't understand, how can they reach me?"

How, indeed?

If the objective of the reaching is voter registration, student activism and a real-life introduction to the life beyond study halls, the Choose or Lose Bus and Rock the Vote, its voter registration partner, offer one answer.

Since January, the bus team has signed up 30,000 new young voters. And it has been a venue for MTV interviews with all the major candidates: Republican Bob Dole was first. Ross Perot of the Reform Party was next. President Clinton, the Democrat, came on board right after he was renominated.

Choose or Lose came to Hopkins yesterday because Jacoba Zelinsky, 19, a political science and anthropology student from New Haven, Conn., insisted. Over and over.

She knew about the bus -- Surprise! -- from MTV, her life's nearly constant accompanist.

"I was raised on MTV. I love the music, I love the style, I love everything about it," she said.

The rock video channel's campaign coverage included reports on the bus' progress across the country -- all the major cities since January. So, Jacoba started calling MTV honchos.

"She really got on us," said Dave Anderson, on-bus coordinator for MTV.

He said the bus finds volunteers like Zelinsky at all its stops. Thus it can further reinforce what he called unique-among-young-people credibility. No major network can match it, he said. The others are not trusted by almost any segment of the electorate, he said, and for the younger voter they don't have the music and the lyrics.

So, yesterday in the rain, Anthony F. Shay of Skowhegan, Maine, came by to hear the candidates blaring bits of their message across the campus from the bus's big speakers. Shay is a conservative who leans toward Dole. Welfare reform seems like the most compelling issue of the election to him. He's not anxious to work hard to support those who could work but don't.

"A lot of the country's money is being sucked into welfare," he said.

On the other side of the political divide, Andrew H. George, 19, had a "Clinton-Gore" campaign button fastened to his backpack. George, who is studying computer science, thinks Clinton will win "in a landslide." He registered to vote yesterday, choosing the simplified procedure available through Choose or Lose over the absentee ballot sent by his mother.

"Clinton's more in touch with young people," he said. He was glad to see the bus because students who think as he does are in danger of believing the race is over with Clinton 15 percentage points ahead in the polls. He fears Hopkins students, so many of them focused on getting into medical school, might not turn out.

Zelinsky, who was orientation chairman at Hopkins this year, is working against that choice. "Party, but try to do something useful," she told this year's freshmen.

Choose and vote.

And, by all means, choose on time

If you want Ross for Boss and Pat Choate for Vice Boss you could be disappointed if you're voting in Maryland. Choate's name won't be on the ballot here. The name of a stand-in, James Campbell of Los Angeles, will be.

Candidate Perot, who promises to end Washington gridlock as we know it, didn't get around to picking a running mate in time to inform Maryland election officials by Sept. 2, 65 days before the election, a drop-dead deadline.

"It's a nice tradition as well as constitutionally required," said Deputy Attorney General Jack Schwartz.

But listen up, people. Do we agree we want every candidate to have his or her first choice? Can we agree on that? OK. Here's what will happen.

Should the Perot-Campbell ticket win in Maryland, its electors would be under no legal obligation to stay with the stand-in. They could vote for Choate.

Sometimes, apparently, they know what they're doing over there in Washington.

Pub Date: 9/17/96

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