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Candidates go tailgating for votes at football games
College pregame crowds are ripe for election-year stumping
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Saturdays in Athens: Nothing but red and black as far as the eye can see and the smoky scent of hot dogs and bourbon fill the air by dawn.

Thousands of fans make the pilgrimage to watch the University of Georgia football team play. But politicians make the trip with a different agenda in mind.

Their Saturday is for working.

Politicians will be swarming tailgate parties, passing out stickers and shaking hands to get their names out to the thousands of fans who are captive potential voters this football season.

Bobby Andres, the communication director for Democratic U.S. House candidate Russell Edwards, was handing out stickers at the Young Democrats tailgate Saturday.

"University of Georgia football is the top sports franchise in Georgia," Andres said. "Everyone comes to Athens every Saturday for tailgating, so it's just a great opportunity."

Andres said football games are a good way to mobilize younger voters.

"It's especially helpful for student voting because we've got 30,000 undergraduates here," Andres said.

He said last year, the Young Democrats got 7,000 students registered to vote.

Kristin Moreaux, chairman of the College Republicans at the University of Georgia, said she expects campaigning to ramp up as the season progresses.

"The Vanderbilt game (Oct. 16) and the Tennessee game (Oct. 9) are where you're probably going to see the most," Moreaux said. "Those are the bigger games; Vanderbilt is homecoming."

Moreaux said Gov. Sonny Perdue successfully used campaign stickers at Georgia games as part of his election strategy.

"When he was first running for governor, a group of students at the University of Georgia handed out Sonny lapel stickers to everyone," Moreaux said. "It got him a lot of publicity. It was a tactic that was just known throughout the state to have really worked. Every election cycle since then, it's kind of been a battleground."

The mostly red-and-black campaign stickers are a common sight around campus during election years. In 2008, "Dawgs for Obama" and "Dawgs for McCain" stickers were everywhere.

In 2009, candidates in Georgia's gubernatorial primary jumped in with stickers of their own. And this year, Roy Barnes and Nathan Deal stickers are sure to be a mainstay of every home football game during their campaign for governor.

Tom Jackson, vice president for Public Affairs at UGA, said the school has no problem with political tailgating.

"We've come to expect it. It's part of the political season," Jackson said. "As long as they abide by the rules that any tailgater has to abide by, it's not a concern."

Georgia is not the only school to get the political attention, however. Democrat Barnes kicked off his campaign tailgates at Georgia State's inaugural game Thursday in Atlanta.

"Football games are a great opportunity to reach voters. That's why our campaign, along with our Students for Roy chapters, will have a presence on campuses across Georgia this fall where we'll share Roy's plan to make Georgia work with pigskin-loving voters," said Anna Ruth Williams, a spokeswoman for Barnes.

Brian Robinson, spokesman for the Deal campaign, said the Gainesville Republican also plans to campaign at different schools.

"It's a good way to show a crowd you have strong support," Robinson said. "There'll be no corner of the state left unturned during football season."

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