Obama fans organize on campus

Members of Yale for Obama reunited Thursday evening to lay out their plans for the fall, including campaigning in New Hampshire and possibly expanding their efforts into the New Haven area.

More than 60 students — including many freshmen who were not present at last year’s kickoff event — met in the Timothy Dwight common room, where the group’s officers presented the various opportunities for student involvement in Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. The group will begin its first major effort on Saturday, Sept. 29, when students will make a canvassing trip to Keene, N.H.

Adam Barth ’08, right, a leader of Yale for Obama, meets with about 60 other Elis to organize support for the Illinois senator’s presidential bid.
Rachel Engler
Adam Barth ’08, right, a leader of Yale for Obama, meets with about 60 other Elis to organize support for the Illinois senator’s presidential bid.

While Adam Barth ’08, the president of Yale for Obama, said that New Hampshire remained of the highest importance because it leads off the primary schedule, he said he is excited that Yale students may also get the opportunity to canvass in New Haven.

“We think Connecticut is a legitimate battleground state,” Barth said.

Part of the reason Connecticut should be more competitive is that many activists in the state are withholding support from the leading candidates — Obama, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards — in favor of Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, a “favorite son,” said Lex Paulson ’02, who works for the Connecticut Obama steering committee, coordinating with college activists.

“We have Sen. Christopher Dodd tying up the support of many Connecticut activists for the time being,” Paulson said. “If he drops out of the race at some point, there will be a lot of people looking to get involved. The important thing now is who can build up a vibrant grassroots community [in Connecticut] in the meantime.”

Connecticut has also moved its primary up from March to February 5, meaning that the Democratic presidential candidate is less likely to have been decided by the time state residents go to the polls.

Yale for Obama is coordinating with Paulson — who organized support for Vice President Al Gore on campus in 2000 — to improve the efficacy of its grassroots efforts. College students bring enthusiasm, said Paulson, but the challenge is to avoid reinventing the wheel with such young and new volunteers.

To Yale for Obama’s benefit, not all the volunteers are new to the game.

Rhiannon Bronstein ’11 said she was excited to stay involved with the Obama campaign after helping organize support for him over the summer. Bronstein said grassroots efforts in Seattle, her hometown, were primarily focused on preparing for rallies and visits by Obama.

For some students, Obama’s own experience in grassroots organizng is part of the candidate’s appeal.

“He’s put his time in trying to change things locally,” Vivek Kembaiyan ’10 said. “He has experience at the grassroots level.”

Still, Yale for Obama members are not the only Democratic activists on campus, and student groups are also working for Edwards and Clinton.

Adam Goodrum ’10, who helped start Yale for Edwards, said the group has not recruited to the same extent as Yale for Obama, but that the current group — 10 members are listed on Facebook — planned to reach out through networks of friends to build a core of supporters. Goodrum said that the number of people was less important than the dedication of those involved.

“We’d love if Edwards had a plurality of support at Yale,” Goodrum said. “But it’s not the Yale vote that matters, but rather the votes in the swing states.”

He said the Edwards group hopes to phonebank in key states, like Nevada and Iowa, as well as canvass locally.

Gemma Bloemen ’10 said that Yale for Hillary — of which she is a member — will have its first organizational meeting on Monday, Sept. 17, in the Silliman College courtyard. She said there were no specific events planned but that those would be discussed at the meeting.

Barth said that Yale Democrats are planning to organize candidate forums in which all the groups would be represented.

Goodrum said that all the Democratic groups are ultimately in the same boat.

“We’re all in this together,” he said. “But for now, it’s about finding the best candidate — for the country and for the world.”

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