Potential student voters in this year’s 9th Congressional District Democratic primary got the chance to ask candidates about policy issues Wednesday night.
Over 60 people attended the College Democrats at IU’s 2018 Candidate Forum in Rawles Hall.
College Democrats at IU expected candidates Dan Canon and Liz Watson to attend the event. Rob Chatlos, who originally filed as an independent candidate until he re-filed as a Democrat in September, showed up at the event with his registration forms in hand.
“My tone is probably different than you’re used to hearing,” Chatlos told the crowd.
The winner of the May 8 Democratic primary will face incumbent Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, a Republican, in the November general election.
“I think tonight went really well, all things considered,” College Democrats at IU President and sophomore Raegan Davis said.
The student group was unaware Chatlos had filed as a Democrat, Davis said, because Chatlos did not have a campus presence to date. Canon and Watson both have student affiliations on campus and have several student interns.
Once Chatlos arrived, College Democrats at IU adjusted the forum’s format to include him.
“Three candidates have already filed, which means all should be treated equally,” the forum’s moderator, Professor of Economics Martin Spechler, said.
Davis said Chatlos told her he is now interested in creating an on-campus presence and working with student interns.
College Democrats at IU planned to give each candidate six questions, but pared it to four questions in three-minute segments once Chatlos arrived. The candidates were allotted three minutes each for opening and closing statements.
Davis said college tuition and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals were the most common subjects students submitted in a poll open exclusively to IU students prior to the forum.
Among other topics discussed were K-12 education reform, single-payer healthcare, Israel, a broken Washington, decaying race relations and climate change.
While the rest of the district focuses generally on education and healthcare, Canon said the students’ questions were more concerned with the specifics of higher education and tuition.
All candidates addressed college tuition during the forum. Though Watson wasn’t specifically asked a question regarding college tuition, she noted it in her closing remarks.
Chatlos told the crowd he would reduce the rising cost of college tuition by making it free.
“Education is an investment,” Chatlos said.
Foreign policy was another issue Canon said he only sees on IU’s campus.
"The topic of Israel-Palestine is a big deal on IU Bloomington's campus,” Canon said. “But you go out in the district, and people aren't talking about it.”
Watson, a former women’s rights attorney, said she noted the candidates were not asked about sexual harassment, equal pay or civil rights protections for transgender students.
“We have to fight to make sure every student on IU's campus is safe,” Watson said in an interview.
Cole Ferguson, director of political affairs for College Democrats at IU, said the forum was a great way for students to understand policies and recognize ways to get involved with the candidates’ campaigns.
“As students, we are a big part of the campaign,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said many students at the forum were looking for internship opportunities. By hearing the candidates’ policies, students could identify campaigns they want to work with.
Sophomores Brandon Smith and Neil Patel said they came to the forum because they previously didn’t know anything about the candidates.
“I really like to see what the candidates believe, to make a good decision in the primary,” Smith said.
Smith said he’d support Watson after listening to the forum. Patel said Canon’s diverse socioeconomic background spoke to him.
The students, who are roommates, said they were not bothered by supporting different candidates.
In her closing statement, Davis said students should conduct further research if they don’t currently hold an allegiance or aren’t currently working for a candidate.
“The best thing we can do as a Democratic candidate is educate ourselves,” Davis said.
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