Electric guitars drowned out the buzz of the cafeteria at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Hilton Head Gateway campus center Thursday while Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley waited to make a speech.
More than 100 students and other spectators crowded the tables to eat free food and hear from election hopefuls at a Rock the Vote event sponsored by the USCB Student Government Association. The goal of the event was to help students make smart decisions on Election Day, organizers said.
Most candidates for statewide races sent staff members and surrogate speakers.
State Rep. David Mack, D-Charleston, spoke in favor of Haley's opponent Vincent Sheheen.
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U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-West Columbia, did not attend the event but had a meeting with SGA members earlier Thursday where he honed in on the message of the day: the importance of the youth vote. Wilson faces Democrat Rob Miller in the race for the 2nd congressional district. Miller did not attend the event.
State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, who is unopposed Tuesday, and Republican lieutenant governor hopeful Ken Ard were there.
Haley, who spent Thursday stumping in Beaufort County, was the big draw.
While there were cheers when she asked attendees if they were there for the pizza and music, the most enthusiastic applause occurred when she asked if they were voting Tuesday.
Haley told students that opportunity was a way for young voters to decide if politicians passed or failed. She promised to provide economic opportunities for the students once they graduate.
"What my job, as your governor, is to make sure there are jobs waiting for you," she said.
Daniel Cid, who studies pre-law and had his picture taken with Haley using his cellphone, said he came to the rally to find out more about her positions.
"I vote for the best candidate and the one who is going to help my pocket," he said.
The crowd seemed to favor Republicans. The school has a College Republicans chapter but no Democrat-affiliated group.
Organizer Taylor Mason, SGA vice president and chairman of the College Republicans, said he hoped the event would get students out to the polls. Campus groups registered 120 new voters during a drive earlier this year, but trying to engage students in state politics can still be a hard sell as more out-of-state students enroll, he said. Mason said he has had conversations with peers who don't know who Haley is.
But being involved in the process is important, he said.
"What's going on in politics now will decide your future," he said.