Literally a few feet away from each other, political rivals aiming to represent Georgia's 46th state Senate district greeted students from their respective parties Wednesday night.
"I need your vote," state Sen. Doug Haines (D-Athens) told the Young Democrats. "I'm running against a ton of money -- my opponent is already on TV."
That "ton of money" was raised by challenger Brian Kemp, who was across the Tate Student Center's hall at the College Republicans weekly meeting.
Haines has "had a bullseye on his back," his wife Lisa Lott said, since he unseated 38-year state Senate veteran Paul Broun in the 2000 Democratic primary and then narrowly defeated his Republican challenger a few months later.
Kemp, an Athens developer whose grandfather was a state senator, said he's contesting Haines to represent "the values of the district that aren't currently represented."
He points out cuts in local teachers' pay and funding cuts to the University as shortfalls of Haines' two-year tenure.
"If anybody doesn't need funding cut, it's our state universities," Kemp said. "If Haines was doing the job, I wouldn't be running."
But Haines said with state revenues at the lowest level since World War II, the budget slashes are inevitable.
"The cuts are going to come," he said. "My job is to make them not hurt."
By not eliminating University jobs, maintaining some budget flexibility and even adding a marginal pay increase last year, Haines said he's doing his duty.
"While our neighboring states are tanking and their higher education institutes are going down, we gave a raise," he said. "With that small pay raise, we looked great to other universities."
Despite their differences, both candidates speak the same political language: they say they want to harness the potential of student voters.
Haines said he felt the University is the "heart" of his work at the state Capitol, and Kemp emphasized his understanding of students' positions in the Athens community.
"I know how this University works, I know how the community works and I know how important students are here," he said.