U student eyes office

By Ryan Shelton, Asst. News Editor

When Dylan McDonnell was 8, politics and pingpong went hand in hand.

As a child he would often discuss issues of diplomacy and conflict with his father over heated table tennis matches.

Twenty years later, McDonnell, a graduate student in Middle East studies, hopes to be the second Libertarian candidate ever elected to a state office in Utah8212;a feat mired with financial and ideological pitfalls.

However, for McDonnell, the challenge is about more than just his campaign8212;which is built around one major theme: government should be based on cooperation rather than opposition.

“The two-party system just doesn’t work,” McDonnell said. “If you want change, it’s either heads or tails on a quarter, but in the end it’s still just a quarter.”

McDonnell is running for a spot in the Utah House of Representatives in District 24 against Democratic incumbent and U alumna Rebecca Chavez-Houck. In a state widely viewed as a bastion for conservative politics, McDonnell is running in one of the most liberal districts in Utah, which he said benefits his campaign because voters are more willing to listen to his ideas.

“The downtown and Avenues areas have a very educated populace8212;there’s a lot of professors and students who live in my district,” he said. “If most people looked into their own beliefs, they would find a liberal streak in there somewhere.”

McDonnell received a bachelor’s degree from the U in Middle East studies in 2006 and is set to receive a master’s degree in May. He is the Heritage Center’s customer service manager, graduate Student Advisory Committee chairman for Middle East Studies and president of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Model Arab League.

McDonnell’s campaign relies heavily on support from students and friends like Dave McGee, a senior political science student and self-described campaign “jack of all trades.” McGee has been friends with McDonnell for three years and has helped him with political strategies, fund-raising and door-to-door canvassing.

“The biggest challenge Dylan faces is getting name recognition in his district,” McGee said. “He’s truly brilliant and the perfect candidate for young voters.”

However, even with the help of friends, McDonnell said he knows he faces an uphill battle.

“To be honest with you, I’m pretty sure Rebecca will get elected,” he said. “As long as some of my ideas get out there, I’m happy.”

McDonnell has raised $3,000 since declaring his candidacy in March, which he said eclipses the total amount raised by every third-party candidate during the last 10 years. McDonnell is one of 13 Utah Libertarian candidates running for office this fall.

Political science professor Ibrahim Karawan said McDonnell’s ability to persuade coupled with his humble competitiveness makes him an ideal candidate.

“He’s a coalition builder,” Karawan said. “He always wants to make a difference. He listens well, and he’s not afraid to laugh at himself.”

For McDonnell, cooperation means extending his hand across partisan divides and even engaging in Facebook chats with Chavez-Houck.

“We bounce ideas off one another all the time,” he said. “When she gets invited to debates, she always makes sure to get me on the bill. She’s been a great help to me.”

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Dylan McDonnell