Incumbents win in a Web-savvy Senate presidential campaign

Ryan Brown, Managing Editor

Student Senate incumbents Cliff Maloney and Marcus McGuire retained their seats Thursday in a 2-to-1 landslide presidential election that included unprecedented turnout.

More than 900 students – over a third of eligible voters – cast online ballots in a 2012-2013 presidential campaign that featured robust Web presences for both the incumbents and their challengers, Christian Woo and Alexis Prusick. Maloney received 630 votes to Woo’s 291.

“Both of us campaigned so hard, people were encouraged to vote,” Maloney said of the turnout.

In the week leading up to the two-day election, Pitt-Johnstown students provided free advertising by following Twitter trends like “WooPru2012” and Facebook pages organized by the candidates.

Supporters left homemade election messages on social-media sites, and at least one faculty member sent campaign e-mails to students.

Maloney attributed his overwhelming success in part to more old-fashioned campaign methods: supporters knocked on every residence-hall door, he said, and left fliers on commuters’ windshields.

Both campaigns’ volunteers left handbills at cafeteria tables; Woo’s marked a rare emergence of outside election funding at Pitt-Johnstown, with napkin-dispenser notes attributed to “the Friends of C. Woo and A. Prusick.”

Woo said that, despite a strong base of fraternity and sorority members to knock on doors and distribute ads, his campaign had difficulty keeping up with Maloney and McGuire’s activists.

“Every time we had something in a napkin dispenser, there was a flier or two,” he said.

With campaign spending over $60 forbidden, both sides’ physical advertising opportunities were limited.

Maloney said he and McGuire spent $40 on M&M candies, in keeping with their “M and M” advertising handle.

A major boost for the incumbents’ campaign came March 14, when administrators inaugurated a campuswide wireless Internet plan for which Maloney had long advocated.

“Wireless campus” became a watchword for Maloney’s candidacy, a symbol of an active Student Senate administration.

“We probably did well with upperclassmen,” he said. “The people who have been around, who have seen other administrations in the past.”

While voter breakdowns are not available, Maloney said he observed a stronger freshman turnout than in past years, as well – partly the result of a more active campaign season, he said.

Door-to-door campaigning and activism among freshmen had an effect on the first-year vote, according to Laurel Hall resident Kaitlyn Black.

“(Woo) introduced himself . . . and asked if we’d already voted,” Black said.

She said freshman fraternity and sorority members helped spread the word of otherwise-little-known candidates in the days immediately preceding the vote.

This year’s campaign appeared far more civil than its predecessor, which was marred by post-election accusations of fraud and misconduct. Maloney and Woo spoke highly of each other throughout the season.

“We called each other every night leading up to the election, and on election night,” Maloney said. “Just to be civil.”

How the election will affect Student Senate’s layout has yet to be seen; Maloney said he foresees Woo retaining an administrative position, but hasn’t yet discussed it in detail.

Woo said he plans to run again for his Senate seat, and would accept an appointment in Maloney’s administration.

“If he thinks I’d be that person . . . I’d definitely accept his offer,” Woo said. “I want to make this upcoming year one of the most proactive we’ve had.”

At-large Senate elections are set for April, with an April 4 candidacy deadline scheduled. Twenty-eight seats will be open, Maloney said.