In early primary voting states across the country — from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina — former Sen. John Edwards has built his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on grassroots support among the rank-and-file party faithful. But at Yale, the grassroots are looking elsewhere.
While some students interviewed said they are supporting Edwards based on his experience, electability and progressive agenda, these backers remain few in number. Although Yale for Edwards, which formed last spring, currently has only about a dozen members — just a fraction of the number in groups backing front-runners Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — group leaders said they anticipate increased student participation and activism in the coming months.
Edwards supporters cited their candidate’s bold and clearly articulated priorities as a major factor in their decision to back him.
“Of all the major candidates, Edwards is uniquely committed to an economic populist platform,” Yale for Edwards Co-President Diego Flores ’10 said. “[He is committed to] ending the two Americas we have now and bringing one America with more equality of opportunity.”
Ariela Rothstein ’10, a member of Yale for Edwards who interned with the campaign in New Hampshire last summer, said she was drawn to his progressive platform, which emphasizes universal health care, rural development and helping the working poor.
“Edwards is strong on the domestic issues that are important to all of us,” she said. “He is pushing the issues closest to me.”
Flores said he thinks the group’s popularity and influence will increase as more students begin to pay attention to the elections.
“Once Yale students look at Edwards’ platform and see his message and how clearly he aligns to Yale students on what he believes, especially in terms of social issues, I think we will see a lot of increased support,” Flores said. “[Yale for Edwards] can help facilitate this.”
Earlier this month the group brought Steve Moilanean, the campaign’s youth director for the Northeast region, to speak at a Yale College Democrats debate. Moilanean said Yale for Edwards’ diligence in arranging his visit to campus is a testament to the group’s dedication.
“I was very impressed,” Moilanean said. “[Yale for Edwards Co-President Adam Goodrum ’10] was very proactive in contacting campaign headquarters and making sure the campaign had a presence at the event.”
Flores said Moilanean has continued to talk with Yale for Edwards’ members about ways the group can organize on campus and provide assistance to the national campaign, including helping interested members find ways to work on the campaign in early primary states over winter break.
While he expects Edwards’ stock on campus to rise, Flores said the group’s top priority is advocating for the former vice presidential nominee on a national level.
“Our philosophy is that at the end of the day, it isn’t about who wins at Yale — it is about who wins in the swing states,” Flores said.
But even Edwards supporters concede that his ability to win support from undergraduates may be limited by Obama’s massive campus following.
“I’m not all that optimistic for him on the college front.” Rothstein said.
The group plans to organize phone calls to canvass swing states and take a trip to New Hampshire — which will hold the first primary in January — to help the campaign there in the near future, he said.
Supporters also cited Edwards’ experience — both in the Senate and in the 2004 presidential election — as a strength that will make it easier for him to be elected over a Republican candidate in the general election.
“Edwards has the experience he will need to ward off the Republican attack machine,” Goodrum said. “He is still regarded by many as being the greatest chance for a Democrat to win the presidency, and that is the most important thing.”
But others said they disagree that Edwards will be more electable than other candidates in the Democratic field.
“While I agree with some of Edwards’ policies like universal health care, I don’t think he has very good prospects for victory,” Brian Levin ’11 said. “The American people don’t really know what [else] he stands for.”
Flores said he thinks much of Obama’s following on campus is a result of his perceived similarity to Yale students.
“Obama is younger and has that Ivy League pedigree,” Flores said. “I bet a lot of kids at Yale see some of their selves in him … but 99.9 percent of the country doesn’t care about that. We have an Ivy person in now and look what is happening.”
According to an Oct. 7 Gallup poll, Edwards is in third place nationally, receiving 11 percent of Democratic voters’ support, compared to 47 percent for Clinton and 26 percent for Obama.