Students kick off ‘Yale for Obama’

In most years, starting a student activist group 19 months before the general election might seem premature. But in a 2008 presidential campaign that has redefined “early bird,” the launch of “Yale for Obama” got off to a rousing — if early — start this weekend.

While the Friday meeting attracted a crowd of about 60 students to the Davenport Common Room, the number of students who actually decided to sign up with the student campaign for Sen. Barack Obama was even more impressive. Asked if they would be willing to volunteer with the group, more than 50 said ‘yes.’ Another 10 said ‘maybe,’ and none declined the opportunity to get actively involved.

Students pack the Davenport Common Room at the kickoff meeting of student group Yale for Obama, which drew a crowd of about 60.
Matt Lucas
Students pack the Davenport Common Room at the kickoff meeting of student group Yale for Obama, which drew a crowd of about 60.

Roger Low ’07, one the group’s founders, said “Yale for Obama” would focus primarily on spreading excitement about Obama around campus and then using that enthusiasm to support the national campaign. He said the organization would sponsor voter registration drives, assist with fundraising in Connecticut, and send teams up to New Hampshire to canvass. While bringing Obama to New Haven would be “amazing,” Low said, the group recognizes that, at least for now, Obama will be better off spending time in early primary states.

Low is a columnist for the News.

Students at the kick-off event heard a plea for grassroots support. While Reid Cherlin ’03, Obama’s New Hampshire press secretary, said some of the work might not seem particularly interesting or noteworthy, it would be integral to the campaign’s success.

“Campuses are a huge part of our organizing strategy,” Cherlin said. “But we don’t need people in a research capacity — we need people knocking on doors.”

He said Yale students were in a unique position to help decide the Democratic candidate, since the early primary in New Hampshire means that nearby state has substantial influence on the rest of the primaries that follow. And while it is impossible to saturate the media markets in the almost two dozen states with elections on Super Tuesday, Cherlin said, effective canvassing and a New Hampshire victory would bring substantial, free coverage at the most important time.

The grassroots efforts will not focus on Connecticut, Cherlin said, as Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd is likely to win his home state in the primaries.

Cherlin said the campaign was benefiting from its increased reliance on technological savvy. He credited the $25 million the campaign raised in only 55 days — the product of over 100,000 individual donations, 88 percent of which were under $100 — to the outreach abilities of the Internet. Obama’s campaign is also reaching out to college students through its online social networking site, my.barackobama.com, Cherlin said.

“If it looks a little like Facebook, that’s because it was created by the same guy,” Cherlin said.

But Spencer Hutchins SOM ’07, who worked on the 2004 presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry ’66, said students are not just waiting for the campaign to reach out to them. For the first time in his political life, Hutchins said, student groups are forming on their own and then seeking actively to involve themselves in the campaign.

“At this time [in the 2004 campaign], we’d have had trouble getting this many people into a room with John Kerry in it,” he said.

Despite growing campus support for Obama, support for other Democratic party candidates is not as prominent or organized. No official activist group, for example, exists for Sen. Hillary Clinton, and while the “Yale for Obama” facebook group has 470 members, relatively few groups exist supporting Clinton.

Charles Boebinger ‘07 said that for all the discussion about the Democratic Primary on campus, he has seen students overtly advocate for only Obama. But speaking for himself, Boebinger said that it is too early to make a call as to who will win the Democratic primary.

“It is to soon to tell at the moment,” he said.

Students who attended the event spoke of their support for Obama in terms of his personal dynamism and character, rather than his policies.

“His immigrant story really resonated with me,” Jason Wu ’10 said.

Despite the early date, there still is a sense of urgency. Cherlin said the primaries could conceivably begin as early as December if New Hampshire moves up its own primary in response to the changes in the national primary schedule.

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