By CHEYENNE HASLET and BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC News
Democrats have found a new strategy to target holes in the Trump administration’s approach to coronavirus: give college students the mic.
“I want to go to a game again; I want to be able to hang out with my friends again. And I want to attend classes and go to the library like normal again. But none of that can happen until we elect Biden and Harris this November,” college student Cecelia McDermott said during a press conference held virtually by the Wisconsin Democratic Party on Friday morning.
McDermott was one of a handful of students from key swing states like Wisconsin whose stories were propped up at events organized by Democrats this week, including in Michigan and Ohio.
At each event, the message was the same: Students, many of whom were members of Democratic groups at their schools, blamed Trump for mishandling the pandemic, pointing to the thousands of coronavirus cases popping up on college campuses just a few weeks since students returned for the fall semester.
Students railed against President Donald Trump for letting coronavirus get to a point that ruined the traditional college experience, harmed future job prospects and canceled college football games.
Trump has said it’s up to the governors to manage the response in the states and accused Democrats for overplaying the threat of the virus for political purposes.
“Like those brave Americans before us, we are meeting this challenge,” Trump said at the Republican National Convention last month. “We are delivering lifesaving therapies and will produce a vaccine before the end of the year, or maybe even sooner. We will defeat the virus and the pandemic and emerge stronger than ever before.”
But the unified campaign from Democrats comes as schools like the University of North Carolina and James Madison University in Virginia have canceled in-person classes and sent students home after hundreds of cases were contracted on campus in the first few weeks.
“Cases are starting to pop up and unfortunately it will only get worse under Trump’s weak and divisive leadership. The onus should not be on college students to solve this crisis on their own campus, it should be on the president to address the pandemic that is facing and killing thousands of Americans,” said McDermott, who is the president of the College Democrats at the University of Wisconsin. According to the university’s public testing dashboard, 365 students have tested positive for coronavirus to date.
Other students highlighted the economic uncertainty they fear is in their futures.
“While working hard to get through college, the job market is plummeting and it’s unknown whether myself or my colleagues will be able to hold on to or get jobs after graduating in the next few years,” said Brady Coulthard, a student and chair of the College Democrats at Wisconsin Lutheran College.
In Michigan and Ohio, two other states that carry heavy power in the 2020 election, Democrats hosted a group of college students who blamed the president’s response to the pandemic for the suspension of college football this fall — and its impact on one of America’s most storied football rivalries between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University.
“Because of [Trump’s] failure, my senior year has been thrown into chaos,” University of Michigan student Ben Schuster said on a call with Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan. “Trump always says he’s doing something to get football back, but he isn’t. Like always, he’s tweeting demands with no follow through.”
“The way that COVID has been handled from the very beginning is determining what’s happening in this country,” Dingell said on the call, with Michigan’s stadium, nicknamed “The Big House,” behind her as her virtual background.
“The confusion, the world’s upside down, in the Big Ten and college football is one of the ramifications of early inaction,” she said. “All of us are going to miss football this weekend.”
Matt Dowling, the interim president of the College Democrats of America, a student at Denison University and an Ohio State Buckeyes fan, said he believed the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry would survive coronavirus, but that “it didn’t need to be this bad.”
“His ineffective leadership has really impacted our college campuses. I’ve seen college students across Ohio not taking COVID seriously, not wear masks,” he said.
McDermott, who decided to do her fall semester of school virtually because of health concerns, said she knows the university had a plan to safely reopen, but sees it already being tested as tens of thousands of students return to campus.
On social media, she’s seen crowds of students lined up outside of bars and restaurants.
“Some students are definitely taking it seriously. But right now, when you’re bringing all these students together and expecting them not to socialize after months of isolation, it just wasn’t realistic,” McDermott said.
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