Local political groups gear up for primaries

By Paolo Cisneros

The Champaign County Democrats are aggressively preparing for upcoming Illinois primaries. Party leadership, which has strong connections to the University, is working to facilitate supporters of every Democratic candidate.

Tony Fabri became an active Democrat as a student at the University.

“Really, it all started when I signed up for College Democrats at Quad Day,” he said. “So I guess I was about 19 years old.”

As the years passed, Fabri’s involvement with the Democratic Party grew, and today, he serves as chair of the Champaign County Democrats, an organization that serves to support and provide resources to Democratic candidates in Champaign County.

“Basically we exist to elect Democrats at all levels in Champaign County,” he said.

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Organized by a central committee of precinct committee-men, the Champaign County Democrats pride themselves on being an inclusive organization that holds monthly meetings and frequent social events. But now that election season is in full gear, so are they.

“There’s a lot of excitement and energy this year, so we’re really trying to harness that in an effort to get Democrats elected,” Fabri said.

While the Champaign County Democrats themselves do not endorse any national candidates, Fabri said the organization gets involved by facilitating the efforts of specific presidential campaigns.

“Really, most of it is driven by the campaigns,” he said. “We work with them by making our office space available and providing our facilities to them so that they can run phone drives and that sort of thing.”

Gerri Kirchner, a Hillary Clinton delegate, is a part of one such campaign that utilized the Champaign County Democrats’ facilities.

The local Clinton campaign has used the Champaign County Democrats’ headquarters to keep in touch with Champaign County voters by making phone calls and distributing literature, she said.

“Since we started making these initiatives, we’ve been getting a great response to the Clinton candidacy,” Kirchner said.

State Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Gibson, is a Barack Obama delegate.

The Obama campaign, he said, has also taken advantage of the Champaign County Democrats’ facilities.

“We’ve used their headquarters as a meeting place,” he said. “And even though we’re probably the largest Democratic campaign in the area, their facilities are definitely available to members of the Clinton campaign and Edwards campaign, for example.”

University students are also contributing to the Democratic effort in Champaign County.

Katie Dawson, president of College Democrats, said her organization maintains a strong relationship with the Champaign County Democrats.

“As president of the College Democrats, I’m automatically on their executive board,” she said. “That really helps keep us connected. We help them out whenever we can by making phone calls, going door to door, or whatever else they might need us to do.”

While Democrats like Frerichs acknowledge the large amount of support for Obama among Democratic voters in Champaign County, they admit that the Democratic Party needs to aggressively solicit votes in order to be competitive in a county historically controlled by Republicans.