American flag

A mix of suits and campaign T-shirts found their seats onstage at Pugh Hall. Armed with notes, the students in attendance were ready to act as surrogates for the Democratic presidential candidates and answer questions about their platforms. 

The UF College Democrats and the Bob Graham Center for Public Service Student Fellows hosted an educational forum in the Pugh Hall Ocora Monday night to discuss the platforms of Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang (who has since dropped out of the race as of Tuesday night), Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg. About 40 people came.

The student representatives gave one-minute prepared statements about their candidates’ policies on climate change, healthcare, gender equality and gun control. Afterward, the floor was opened to audience questions, and the student representatives had one minute to answer policy questions posed by the audience but could pass if they didn’t know their candidate’s views on a specific issue. The audience brought up questions about foreign policy strategies, protections of LGBTQ+ Americans and how the war on drugs impacts low-income communities.

The organizations looked for passionate students to represent the candidates’ platforms on stage, said Hannah Townley, a 20-year-old UF political science sophomore and a main organizer of the event. 

Townley said that both organizations wanted to hold the forum before the voter registration deadline on Feb. 18, and especially before the primary election on March 17. Students were able to register to vote and received information about early voting and polling locations at the event.

Claudia Tio, a 21-year-old UF political science and history senior, said that the forum helped her decide which candidate she plans to vote for.

“Before I was vacillating between Pete and Joe Biden; however, seeing the presentations, I think I’m more solid on Pete now,” she said. “Just hearing how passionate [the student representative] was and how thoroughly he explained the different plans.”

Harrison Riumbau, a 19-year-old UF political science and economics sophomore, said that even after the forum he still prefers Joe Biden but appreciated hearing smaller campaign details at the forum. 

“It’s easy to skip through all the news headlines,” he said. “This was a good way to open up on some of the smaller details.”

Tom Wells, 69, who is running for U.S. House of Representatives in Florida Congressional District 3, came to the forum after finding out about it on Facebook and said he thought it was impressive. 

“This is beautiful,” Wells said. “I’m particularly impressed by the tremendous change in the conversation, both here on campus and in small cities.” 

Townley said she hopes to hold another educational forum between the Democratic and Republican candidates for president closer to the general election in November. She also plans to expand the model to local elections.

Contact Kaelyn Cassidy at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @kaelyn_cassidy.