The fact that Sen. Barack Obama’s main opponent is a former Yalie made no difference for the vast majority of campus Democrats, who came out in overwhelming numbers Monday night to support Obama — a Harvard graduate — at the first Yale College Democrats presidential candidate organizing forum.
But Obama wasn’t the only favorite of the night: Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 attracted nearly a dozen proponents, and Sen. Joe Biden and John Edwards each brought one supporter out of the woodwork.
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Students issued calls to drop everything and canvass in New Hampshire to rally support for someone who will “change” America. The room’s sentiment echoed what Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said last month was his attempt to “turn the Democratic Party over to the new generation.”
“We are in the middle of a generational change in the country — not just in the country as a whole, but in a lot of communities in the country,” Dean said in an interview with the News. “The way to get people your age out to vote is to show them how their votes connect them to their own communities, to something they care about.”
Although Dean said young people care most about connecting politics to substantive issues, many of those who supported candidates other than Obama said the Illinois senator’s supporters seem to be concerned more with style than substance.
“Obama has the youth vote locked up,” said Nathan Kilbert ’07, who was the only Edwards supporter in the room. “People who haven’t been around the block see inspiration, but I feel like others who look more substantively [into the candidates] support others.”
Kilbert said during his speech to the group that he supports Edwards because he was the “grassroots, progressive movement” candidate. He said that he was looking for more students to help lead the Edwards movement next semester.
Matthew Ellison ’10 spurred laughter when he announced that Students for Joe Biden was holding a debate-watching party — with himself, since he is the only member of the group at this point. Despite the scarce support for Biden, Ellison said he is serious about the Delaware senator’s candidacy. He said Biden has a “sense of earnestness, a sense of insight” less prevalent in the other candidates.
“It’s going to be tough,” Ellison said, explaining that he will organize trips to New Hampshire and continue to recruit more Biden supporters on campus. “But I’m going to do everything I can to make it happen.”
Clinton supporters came out in relatively moderate numbers under the leadership of Ben Zweifach ’09, who said he found it exciting and challenging to be the underdog on campus.
“Young Democrats tend to gravitate towards a personality candidate, and I think that explains a lot,” Clinton supporter Alexander Martone ’10 said. “But as [presidential hopeful and Connecticut Sen.] Chris Dodd said, ‘After six years of this administration, the last thing we need is four years of on the job training.’”
Most of Clinton’s supporters appeared to be women, echoing Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe’s strategy for youth voters, as outlined last week in an interview with the News. McAuliffe said that even if Obama has secured much of the youth vote, Clinton will draw on the support of young women.
At the end of the day, it was mainly Obama supporters who were left in the room. They are the only group to have held a rally so far, and they have planned a debate-watching party and a trip to New Hampshire in mid-May.
Dan Weeks ’06, a current Marshall Scholar studying at Oxford, was on campus this week and added his voice to Obama’s supporters. Weeks said he and several other Americans at Oxford are organizing for the candidate.
“I think we need a complete sea change in American politics,” Weeks said. “We don’t need just a good president, but a great one, and I think he can really lift people up.”
Campus Republicans have said in recent weeks that they are not as united around a single candidate as the Democrats are, but that the majority of those who have committed are in favor of Rudy Giuliani, for which a student group is expected to form next semester.
The first Democratic candidates’ debate is set for Thursday.