Just like its national counterpart, Yale for Richardson is small in its numbers but confident in its future.
The members of the new organization, which has not yet held its first official meeting, expect broad campus support for the New Mexico governor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson, said group founder Quinlan O’Connor ’10.
O’Connor said he expects the group will ask members to travel to New Hampshire to speak with residents and make phone calls nationwide encouraging others to support Richardson in his campaign.
Students interviewed said they were unfamiliar with Richardson’s candidacy but are generally open to learning more about the presidential hopeful.
O’Connor, whose summer experience working for Richardson’s campaign motivated him to create the group, said he plans to bring together other students impressed with Richardson’s experience as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of energy under the Clinton administration.
“Governor Richardson can say, ‘Here’s what I’ve done in the past and here’s how it’s going to work on a national level,’” O’Connor said.
Tom Reynolds, Richardson’s national press secretary, said the campaign is eager to tap into the voter base at colleges and universities. The governor is already represented at many schools, particularly in the Ivy League, he said.
“College students are very savvy and smart and realize that they can help Gov. Richardson gain the White House in 2008,” Reynolds said. “College students know that Gov. Richardson is the most experienced candidate and the candidate best suited to bring change to Washington.”
O’Connor said he agreed that Richardson’s experience is the factor that will ultimately persuade many voters to support his candidacy — especially idealistic college students. He said he specifically anticipates wide support for Richardson’s harsh criticism of the war in Iraq, his commitment to increasing access to higher education and his pledge to eliminate the No Child Left Behind Act.
Although O’Connor declined to say how many members the group has on campus, he acknowledged that Yale for Richardson is small at the moment. He said that once the group gets out of its planning stages later this fall, he expects a significant increase in its membership. O’Connor emphasized that because Richardson is not well-known to students, support for his candidacy could increase quickly as students come to know Richardson and his positions
Despite the group’s small size, O’Connor said he is not intimidated by larger Yale-based campaign groups. He said there is a marked contrast between Richardson’s campaign and the most popular campaign at Yale and on other college campuses nationwide: Sen. Barack Obama’s.
“Obama is young and inexperienced, and experience is the reason that Gov. Richardson will prevail in the [Democratic] primary,” O’Connor said. “Rather than just using rhetoric, Gov. Richardson can speak from experience.”
But Yale for Obama campaign director Ben Lazarus ’10 — who said the group has 500 declared members and 200 active members — emphatically disagreed with the notion that Obama is inexperienced.
Noting that many Obama supporters are eager to see change in the capital, Lazarus said Obama’s outsider status is appealing to college students in particular.
Yale College Democrats President Eric Kafka ’08 said he is excited to see so many primary campaigns being represented on campus. Beside Yale for Obama and Yale for Richardson, other groups have been organized in support of the presidential bids of Senators Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, John Edwards and Joseph Biden.
“I think that a lively primary can be a good thing,” Kafka said. “There shouldn’t be any anointed candidate. We want this to be an open and fair primary so that we come out with the strongest nominee possible.”
Kafka, Lazarus and O’Connor said they are sure that once the party has selected its nominee, the College Democrats will support that person to its fullest capacity. But Lazarus said if Richardson were the party’s nominee, support on campus would be far less enthusiastic than if Obama were the nominee, because Richardson is relatively unknown to many students.
In the meantime, O’Connor said support for Richardson is already growing among students who are just beginning to learn about the candidate.
Kate Penziner ’11, who attended a College Democrats debate last week in which campaign supporters spoke about their respective candidates, said she was especially impressed with the Richardson campaign, though had not previously been familiar with Richardson.
“I think it’s important to look at somebody’s history and what they’ve done in the past,” she said. “I support Richardson because of his tremendous experience.”
Judd Stern Rosenblatt ’11 said while he is also largely unfamiliar with Richardson’s campaign, he is open to hearing more about all of the presidential hopefuls.
“I’ve seen him on television and know he’s from New Mexico, but aside from that, it seems like a pretty small campaign,” he said.
Richardson has consistently placed fourth, behind Clinton, Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, in recent national polls gauging Democratic support for candidates in the upcoming presidential primaries.