At Yale, front-runner Clinton faces uphill battle

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 may be leading in national polls by as much as 33 percent in the Democratic presidential primary, but at Yale, the numbers tell a different story.

With an increase in membership of over 100 percent since last semester, Yale for Hillary, with about 65 members, remains second to the largest candidate support group on campus — the approximately 500-member Yale for Obama, the group supporting Ill. Sen. Barack Obama.

Still, members of Yale for Hillary said they are not worried that their group will be the University underdog. While group members interviewed said they have plans to step up efforts to raise awareness about Clinton, many students on campus said they have not yet noticed much of a presence of the group.

But Yale for Hillary organizers said they are optimistic about their rising momentum.

“We’ve made large progress [since] when it was a more lopsided majority for Obama last semester,” Yale for Hillary founder and Co-President Ben Zweifach ’09 said. “We have been gaining ever since then.”

As the group grows, Zweifach said Yale for Hillary will extend their voter education and fundraising to canvas voters in early primary states like New Hampshire. To recruit more supporters, Yale for Hillary plans to have its first formal kick-off meeting this Sunday afternoon in the Pierson common room.

Co-President of Yale for Hillary Ben Stango ’11 said the group’s main purpose is not to impose their opinion on others. Rather, he said, they hope to present the details of Clinton’s campaign, perhaps by bringing their candidate to campus.

“Our goal primarily is not proselytizing — it’s not about converting Obama people or other people in general,” Stango said. “It’s about reaching out to those interested in the Democratic party and showing them who Hillary is, what she is going to do and what she has done.”

Stango and Zweifach said they have been working since the summer with leaders at the national campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va., to understand what the group can do to be most effective for the campaign.

But Zweifach said he understands Clinton is unlikely to take the lead on campus, as Obama is “more of a college-student candidate.”

This view was echoed by other politically-involved students and professors.

Jennifer James ’08, vice president of the Yale College Democrats, said Yale’s liberalism may account for its preference for Obama over Clinton.

“I think it’s probably true that liberal Yale students are more progressive and liberal than Democratic adults,” James said. “Clinton has been moving to the middle, making her answers more moderate to attract more people, because she’s in the lead.”

Law professor Drew Days LAW ’66 said another possible reason is that Clinton is well-known through the media, making college students less enthusiastic to see her as opposed to a new face like Obama.

On the other hand, Yale Law Democrats Co-Chair Christen Young LAW ’09 said Obama has also done an excellent job reaching out to students online, leading to increased popularity on Web forums and Facebook groups.

Obama’s appeal over Clinton has not only been limited to students, as Federal Election Commission reports for the first two quarters of 2007 state that Obama received $15,700 in contributions from Yale affiliates, while Clinton received $9,950.

Stango said he understands why there is such a large Yale fan base for Obama, but after the group starts to educate students about Clinton’s platform, support for Clinton will increase.

“Obama and his spirit, his charisma, his personality — people find hope in the message that he’s bringing, but I don’t believe that the country is prepared for him, nor is he prepared to lead it,” he said. “Once, on Yale’s campus, we show people what [Clinton] has done, what she can do and what she will do, it will dispel any unfounded animosity that people seem to have for her.”

Members of Yale for Hillary said Clinton’s ideas on health care reform, her stance on the Iraq War and her long-term experience as a first lady and senator make Clinton an appealing candidate.

Some supporters of other Democratic candidates said they also see the potential for significant growth in support for Clinton on campus.

Matthew Ellison ’10, leader of the campus group supporting Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, Yale for Biden, said though support for Clinton is not rampant, it is very solid.

“They haven’t done much that I’ve heard about thus far,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of a presence in the months leading up to the nomination.”

Brendan Gants ’08, communications director for Yale for Obama, said in an e-mail that it appears that this year there is a strong selection of Democratic candidates, and that the group will coalesce with whoever ends up being the nominee.

Still, he said, he worries that Clinton would not be successful in the general election.

“I think she’s a good candidate [and] certainly she would be far better than any of the Republicans,” Gants said in the e-mail. “But I think she would be too polarizing in a general election and too cautious as a president to deliver the kind of change we need right now.”

Though many students interviewed, such as Lucia Diaz-Martin ’09, said they do not necessarily support Clinton, they are receptive to what Yale for Hillary has to say as it expands.

“I wouldn’t want to join the group because I don’t really support Hillary,” she said. “But I would be willing to talk to the people that support her and hear why they do.”

A national poll by The Associated Press and Ipsos News Center released Oct. 7 put Clinton at the lead of the 2008 Democratic primary candidates with 46 percent, followed by Obama with 26 percent and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards with 11 percent.

Another national poll by ABC News and the Washington Poll, released Oct. 3, had put Clinton at an even higher lead of 53 percent, with Obama at 20 percent and Edwards at 13 percent.

Clinton met her future husband, President Bill Clinton LAW ’73, while a student at Yale.

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