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The Republican club at The Citadel membership greatly outnumbers the Democratic one. But the smaller group hopes to make an impact. File.

How's this for overwhelming force: The Republican Society at The Citadel has more than 750 active members, and bills itself as the largest Republican club in the South.

The Citadel's College Democrats?

It has 50 members — or barely enough to defend a voting precinct.

But the more important trend is that number has grown from just two interested cadets before the club got its start in September.

Heading into 2020, the minority of Democratic Party-aligned students on this conservative Charleston campus have their sights set on raising their profile. Already some of their members have been on-hand to welcome the early visiting 2020 White House hopefuls, U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker among them.

The club is led by senior Matthew Miller of Kalamazoo, Mich., who picked The Citadel over any in-state Michigan school. Coming out of high school, he knew he wanted to go to a military college. 

He called the Citadel a "leadership laboratory."

But hailing from Michigan, Miller realized the bulk of the cadets at the Military College of South Carolina didn't have the same political views he did, or a space to talk about the issues he cared about.

His Midwestern background was a "very different upbringing than what I walked into on my first day at the Citadel," he said. He's not sure what parts of the country the rest of the club members hail from, but suspects its reflective of overall enrollment.

Former White House strategist firebrand Steve Bannon's visit to campus in 2017 for the Citadel Republican Society’s annual Patriot Dinner is one of the coarser events that stands out, he said.

“It’s time for us to get angry again," Bannon said that night.

There's no doubt the school is seen as a comfortable — and even obligatory — Charleston stop for Republicans seeking the White House.

Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and the Bushes are just some of the figures who have spoken in recent cycles.

Some made global defense policy pitches. Others glad-handed.

Rick Santorum's sons went there to be cadets. Going back even further, Ronald Reagan gave the college's 1993 commencement address.

There was also a noticeable statement made in 2013 when Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul drew loud applause from the Corps of Cadets when he said Hillary Clinton should be disqualified from running for president because of her handling the Benghazi affair while secretary of state.

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After his remarks, Paul acknowledged the right-leaning bent in the school’s enrollment.

“If I had to guess, they’re pretty conservative here at The Citadel,” he said.

Still, outside of the strong numbers of cadets who favor Republicans, the school administration has been welcoming to Democrats.

During the 2008 election season, the school scored a hosting coup when eight Democratic presidential hopefuls came to campus for a two-hour debate that aired live on CNN from inside McAlister Field House.

Among them was eventual White House winner Barack Obama.

Four years earlier and shortly after jumping into the Democratic race, Army Gen. Wesley Clark came to The Citadel to launch his bid in South Carolina with what he called for "a new American patriotism."

Going forward, Miller thinks the Democratic club can emerge as a positive influence in the community and on campus, whether it be linking up with other Democratic groups, canvassing for candidates or taking part in get out the vote efforts.

The golden prize, however, would be getting one of the Democratic candidates to visit or make a campaign-shaping stump address to the Corps of Cadets.

For Miller, though, time is running out. He graduates in May, but underclassmen in the group are expected to lead the charge into 2020.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

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