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Patrick Henry College Students Step Into Politics

By ROSALIND S. HELDERMAN The Washington Post

Students on the Campaign Trail With November elections closing fast, the officers of the Patrick Henry College Republicans spent a recent meeting recruiting.

The Republican National Committee needed to ship students to Louisiana, Kentucky and Mississippi, where races were tight. A supervisor candidate in Loudoun County, Va., had offered to pay student volunteers. A state Senate candidate in Florida was desperately seeking help with online research.

Before they adjourned, they ended as they end every meeting at this new Virginia college, heads bowed, taking turns praying aloud.

"Heavenly father, I hope you prepare the hearts and minds of the people we encounter so that we can be ministers for your word," said Leeann Walker, 20. "Even more than representing a campaign or an idea, we represent you."

The club members, who number 67 of a student body of 240, are exactly what home-schooling activist Michael Farris had in mind when he founded this school in 2000 in Purcellville, Va., a rural community within commuting distance of the nation’s capital. They are hard-working, deeply religious and committed to transforming Washington.

Walker, a junior and one of few public school graduates at Patrick Henry, said she used to think grass-roots politics wasn’t very effective. But after an exhilarating morning two years ago waving signs for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Mark Earley with classmates, she was converted.

Since then, she has worked on local supervisor campaigns, volunteered for President Bush’s re-election effort and is an intern at the Center for Equal Opportunity, a Sterling, Va.-based think tank headed by one-time Labor Secretary nominee Linda Chavez. She wants to be a speechwriter.

"If you’re not out there doing the footwork, you’re not going to be successful," she said.

Farris, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1993, founded Patrick Henry College to help mold Christian leaders who will change the nation through politics and culture.

He hopes to expand undergraduate enrollment to 1,600 and launch a law school of 400. To attend, students must make a statement of faith, abide by a dress code and obey a curfew. They can major in government, history, classical liberal arts or literature -- most are government majors.

Although the school has graduated just 21 students in two classes and its student body remains small, Farris said his students are having a disproportionately large impact on Washington. Two Patrick Henry students have worked in the White House. Another is serving with the coalition authority in Iraq.

Some have been interns at the Heritage Foundation think tank and the Interior Department. They have volunteered for political candidates across the country and have been especially active in county and state races.

"I think you could find 21 students out of the graduating class of the University of Virginia doing as much," Farris said. "But I think we would compare in a superior fashion when you look at 100 percent of the students and what they’re doing."

Within five years, Farris said, he expects to see a Patrick Henry student elected to local office in his or her hometown. In his lifetime, he said he believes graduates will be elected to both houses of Congress and appointed to state and federal courts. Their agenda will be familiar: to abolish abortion, prevent gay marriage, shrink government and curb judicial activism.

Patrick Henry students said their seriousness of purpose and the school’s classical core curriculum -- which requires every student to take U.S. history, Latin or Greek, and rhetoric -- gives them an edge over other Republican students applying for the same jobs.

"When we encounter people, it’s not just, ‘Here’s the sticker, there’s the elephant,’ " said Tim Moughon, 18, a Tennessee senior who said that after law school, he’d like to run for U.S. Senate some day. "You see our students able to articulate why we support the people that we do."

Patrick Henry students are smart, Farris said -- this year’s freshmen had an average SAT score of 1313 -- and they’re willing to work hard. "It’s a pretty simple formula," he said.

The eventual influence of Patrick Henry students can’t be predicted, but they’ve chosen an apt strategy to start with, said Mark J. Rozell, professor of politics at Catholic University. Rozell wrote a book about the religious right in Virginia politics, including a chapter on Farris.

"The first step is to establish some credibility and then get a little bit of foothold," Rozell said.

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