Dianne Byrums weekly coffee hours arent what they used to be. But MSUs representative in the state Senate has never been involved in one of the nations most heated congressional races either.
Casual gatherings that used to draw only a handful of constituents now lure voters by the dozens - most who are looking to hear what Byrum, D-Onondaga, plans to do if she lands a job in Washington, D.C., come this November.
On Thursday, a student-dominated group of about 40 and reporters from The Washington Post and The New York Times gathered at the Union to hear why Byrum thinks shes more qualified than her opponent, fellow state Sen. Mike Rogers.
Im the candidate here today, she said, criticizing Rogers, R-Brighton, for canceling an on-campus debate Byrum said was planned for Thursday. Thats the thing to remember.
Sylvia Warner, a spokeswoman for Rogers, refuted Byrum, saying nothing was confirmed. Warner said Rogers already had a previous engagement.
Were still open to another debate, Warner said. This wasnt our only chance to come to campus.
The candidates met Wednesday night at Lansing Community College for the first of nine debates scheduled through Nov. 1. The next debate will be Oct. 9 at MSU-Detroit College of Law.
Byrum spent about an hour Thursday speaking about higher education, health care and Planned Parenthood, among other issues.
She told students about her relationship with MSU - she has represented the university for six years in the state Senate. Her husband and daughter graduated from MSU, and some of her campaign workers are recent graduates.
Ive been interacting with ASMSU, spoken with the Board of Trustees and in front of classes here, Byrum said. Id like to think Im accessible to each and every one of you.
Students listening to Byrum on Thursday werent as interested in accessibility as they were the key issues - specifically state Senate bill 306, which requires voters to register in the city that appears on their drivers license.
Rogers was one of the lead sponsors of the legislation, which passed in April, and students questioned Byrum about her stance.
Byrum doesnt support the legislation, calling it an obstacle keeping students from voting. But Rogers says the bill will eliminate voter fraud.
The Republicans seem to be trying to keep students from voting because they know students tend to be more liberal and will probably take votes away from their party, political economy sophomore Louis Brown said.
And although Byrum agrees, she said she doesnt believe the legislation will hurt her triumph over Rogers in November. All recent polls have shown the candidates in a statistical dead heat, and neither expects that to change. The race, which continues to garner the national spotlight, could determine which party becomes the majority.
Some students attending Thursdays forum just wanted to gauge who they should vote for.
But Ben Deneweth, a computer science junior, is now pretty sure who hell support when he visits the polls.
I was kind of undecided of who to vote for, Deneweth said. When I went to the secretary of state to register to vote, though, I made my mind up. It took me an hour and 15 minutes to get my address changed.
Mike Rogers passed the bill and its keeping students from voting.
But three students who attended Thursdays session with Byrum, donning Rogers for Congress T-shirts, disagreed with Deneweth.
Adam Guillette, a political science sophomore and youth coordinator for Rogers campaign at MSU, said the legislation is perfectly valid.
Everyone talks about the bill, but it was designed to cut down on voter fraud and all you have to do is fill out a form to get (your address) changed, Guillette said.