Despite alma mater, Obama thrives at Yale

Although the first voting in this year’s Democratic presidential primaries is still three months away, Yale for Obama — a student organization working on behalf of the Illinois senator’s campaign — is already ringing doorbells for the senator.

With over 200 active members and nearly 500 members on Facebook, Yale for Obama is the largest presidential campaign group on campus.

The organization hopes to harness the campus’ enthusiasm for Harvard Law graduate Barack Obama by drawing out students in droves to canvas and rally for their newfound hope, group director Adam Barth ’08 said.

Ben Lazarus ’10, campaign director of Yale for Obama, said the group is working closely with small-scale campaigns in New Hampshire and Connecticut in preparation for the Granite State’s January primary and Connecticut’s Feb. 5 contest. On the group’s first canvassing trip to southern New Hampshire last weekend, Lazarus said the group was able to get out the word about Obama and the primary election itself. Last weekend, Yale for Obama sent out its first group of students to canvass neighborhoods in New Haven.

Lazarus said he has confidence in the organization and preparation of the national Obama campaign — several New Hampshire residents whom Yalies visited on the canvassing trip said Obama was the first candidate to court their votes, he said.

“We are working with smaller, local campaigns, which means we get more interaction with people who are really passionate about this campaign,” Lazarus said. “I get to speak with someone who is on the national campaign payroll multiple times per week.”

Obama supporters at Yale said they think the candidate is popular because he appears to have the potential to affect real change in a political environment that has turned toxic in recent years.

“Kids are looking at politics and seeing a system that’s dysfunctional and has nothing to do with actually changing anything,” Lazarus said. “Obama can offer that fundamental change, and students trust that he means what he says.”

Brendan Gants ’08, Yale for Obama communications director, said he thinks young voters gravitate toward authenticity, which Obama offers more than the other Democratic candidates. Obama’s early opposition to the war in Iraq helps explain his overwhelming support among college students, Gants said.

Christine Saffold ’11, who once babysat Obama’s daughters, said she thinks Obama appeals to students because he is in more in touch with younger generations.

“He’s youthful and energetic and has a way of connecting to the younger demographic,” she said.

But despite what many described as his youth and charm, some liberal-leaning students said they do not find Obama a compelling candidate. Antonio Ingram ’11 said he thinks Obama’s plans for withdrawal from Iraq are too liberal.

“I don’t think we should put a time limit on withdrawal because we are essentially raising a red flag to any terrorist groups who might be waiting to take advantage of our absence,” he said.

The campaign on campus is also looking to encourage students from early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida to register to vote at home. Travis Marchman ’10, Yale for Obama’s registrar of voters, said that while group leaders hope early-state students will vote for Obama, registering to vote is also an important opportunity to get involved in the democratic process.

“We want to broaden Obama’s support through encouraging students to vote,” Marchman said. “Even a small change in votes can decide the election.”

Sam Schoenburg ’11, a former Obama for America intern, said that if elected president, the senator will fundamentally alter U.S. politics and perhaps change how the United States is perceived around the world.

“I agree with what Iowa Senator Tom Harkin said about Obama — he would change the way the world sees America the moment he was inaugurated,” Schoenburg said.

The first voting of the election season is scheduled to take place Jan. 13, when Iowa holds its caucuses.

In Connecticut — as with most of the tri-state area – Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 is edging out Obama in polls.

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