President — College Democrats
As a sixth-grader, Louis Duke begged his parents to let him stay up late on the night of Nov. 2, 2004, so he could watch the returns for the presidential election.
The Reidsville, N.C., sophomore was pulling for Republican and eventual winner George W. Bush at the time.
Four years later, a little older and wiser (as he puts it), Duke was entrenched in the campaigns to elect Democrats in North Carolina. The then-sophomore in high school relied on his parents to drive him to the local Democratic headquarters so he could volunteer for the campaign to elect Barack Obama president. He was backstage when Bill Clinton came to Reedsville to stump for Hillary Clinton - both of whom he met - and when not in school, Duke rode his bike throughout the neighborhood to hand out literature and knock on doors asking for support.
At the age of 15, he was falling deeper in love with politics.
So it’s of no surprise to those who know Duke to see where he is today - head of the Campbell University College Democrats and working fervently to keep North Carolina blue (the majority of the state voted for a Democrat as president for the first time in 32 years in 2008).
College Democrats at the first presidential debate party on Oct. 3.
“It has been a terrific experience,” said Duke, who’s also communications director for College Democrats of North Carolina. “I’ve always been a lover of history and obsessed with the office of the presidency. I lived in Virginia as a child, and my parents took me to all the presidents’ homes there … George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other historical figures. It fueled my passion for American government and politics.”
The highlight of Duke’s 2012 election season was a trip to Charlotte in September for the Democratic National Convention. For a week, North Carolina was at the center of it all, and Duke was on the convention floor to watch former President Clinton announce the official nomination of President Obama for the Democratic ticket.
“It was without a doubt one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Duke said. “Four years ago, I was watching all of this from my TV at home in my basement. This year, I was in complete awe of all that was happening.”
In addition to seeing Clinton speak, Duke attended “Rock the Vote” parties, was on hand for a live taping of ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer.” And before the convention, he toured Bank of America Stadium and the Time Warner Cable Arena to see the pre-convention preparations.
“I loved every moment of it,” he said. “I hope to do it again in four years.”
Duke at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 5.
Between now and Election Day, Duke and the College Democrats will be hard at work promoting their candidates on the local, state and national levels and engaging students of all political beliefs in what Duke calls “civic dialogue.”
“Our group has three main goals,” he said. “Engage students in discussions on government issues, promote Democrats on campus and work for the election of Democratic candidates up and down the ticket. Most importantly, we work to foster relationships with all students to discuss the issues they care about. We have members who are registered Republicans and independents. We don’t turn anyone away. Any time spent talking government with a student is time well spent.”
Stories by Billy Liggett
Cover photos by Bennett Scarborough
Chair — College Republicans
A few months before the 2000 election, congressional candidate Ed Schrock approached a very young Nate Pencook at his elementary school in Virginia.
Speaking to the second graders, Schrock joked that perhaps one of them would take his job someday if he were to be elected. After the speech, Pencook approached the retired naval officer who would go on to win that year …
“I told him, ‘Sir, I am going to take your job someday,’” recalled Pencook, a junior political science and pre-law major at Campbell University. “I think my parents were a little embarrassed. But I meant it at the time.”
Twelve years later, Pencook is on track to fulfill his pledge.
The Virginia Beach, Va., native is chairman of Campbell’s College Republicans and worked on the campaign to elect Renee Ellmers to Congress in 2010. He interned for Ellmers in Washington, D.C. the following summer.
College Republicans at the N.C. College GOP convention on Sept. 29.
“Right now, this is the best time to be a Republican in North Carolina,” Pencook said. “We’re going red [with presidential candidate Mitt Romney and gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory] in 2012, and we’re going to stay red for a long time.”
If he sounds confident, it’s because he is. As of Oct. 22, national polls had Romney with a growing lead in North Carolina over Obama, who took the Tar Heel State in 2008 - and polls indicate McCrory has a considerable lead over Democrat Walter Dalton for governor.
“I’m not usually one for polls, but I’m hopeful,” he said. “I think all the work we’ve put in this election is paying off. McCrory lost Harnett, Lee and Johnston counties in 2008, and he’s up big in those three counties this year. I think Campbell’s Republicans can take some credit for that. We’ve worked tirelessly and will continue to work through the end of the campaign. And it will all be worth it.”
Pencook said the College Republicans are involved in several other state and local races as well, including working with the campaign to elect retired Col. Ronald Rabin to state senate.
Pencook’s schedule has been full the past few months. Calls for the Rabin campaign on Monday nights. Calls for the Romney/Paul Ryan campaign on Thursday nights. Door-to-door campaigning the first Saturday of every month. Working with McCrory’s campaign during his visits to the area.
As an intern for Ellmers, who’s also up for reelection in 2012, Pencook was heavily involved with communicating with the congresswoman’s constituents back in North Carolina. When he wasn’t working on mailers, he was on the phone with voters in her district or peeking in on hearings on Capitol Hill. His daily routine included riding the Metro to and from work and taking a series of underground tunnels to his office.
A pile of Renee Ellmers door hangers stuffed by the College Republicans on Oct. 4.
One highlight was a chance meeting with current vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan in an elevator.
“There are congressman-only elevators and elevators for everyone else, and I was on a regular one,” Pencook recalled. “I was standing there, and Ryan sneaks onto the elevator, listening to music with his earbuds in. I’m in a state of shock, of course, and I reach my hand out to tell him I appreciate the fine work he’s doing. He didn’t hear me, of course, so he took the earbuds out and I had to do it again. It made my trip … and who knew he’d end up becoming the vice presidential candidate.”