Campaign trail to draw fewer Yalies

The weeks leading up to the first presidential primaries of 2004 may have drawn many students to New Hampshire, but this primary season, Yalies may feel a greater pull from holiday celebrations and late-night study sessions.

By the time Elis arrive back in New Haven after the winter break, the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary — to be held on Jan. 3 and Jan. 8, respectively — will already be over. A handful of students plan to spend an extended period of time over break canvassing with national campaign organizations over the holidays.

Sam Schoenburg ’11, who will join the Obama campaign over winter break, is one of the many Elis drawn into the 2008 race for the presidency.
Grant Smith
Sam Schoenburg ’11, who will join the Obama campaign over winter break, is one of the many Elis drawn into the 2008 race for the presidency.

But given this year’s compressed election schedule, which comes a mere two weeks after the end of final exams, campus political groups are mostly focusing on finding other ways to get involved in early contests.

“In years past, we would have been able to organize some trips up to New Hampshire at the end of winter recess,” said Diego Flores ’10, co-president of Yale for Edwards. “This year, I doubt people are going to want to go up on the eighth. It’s not going to be a realistic option for a lot of people.”

Flores said that this winter his group plans to organize phone-banking — but not canvassing — to call prospective voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, which he said is the “optimal” way to reach a wide swath of voters given the unfortunate overlap of the primary season, finals and the holidays.

Four years ago, many Yalies journeyed to New Hampshire over the weekend of Jan. 24 and 25 — leading up to the Jan. 27 vote — to volunteer for the campaigns of Democratic contenders Howard Dean ’71, John Kerry ’66 and Wesley Clark, among others. The timing perfectly coincided with the start of classes, and Yale volunteers said at the time that the biggest logistical problem was staying outside in the bitter New England cold while moving from house to house.

But by the first day of spring semester classes on Jan. 14, pundits will already be debating how the results from New Hampshire and Iowa will affect upcoming elections in South Carolina, Nevada and a host of other states with contests scheduled for Feb. 5. With limited opportunities for organized canvassing nearby during the peak of primary campaigning, campus campaign group leaders said they are adapting their strategies in order to remain involved.

Elizabeth Ludwig ’10, campus director for Yale Students for Hillary, said the work-filled end-of-semester schedule, in addition to the timing of break — which does not begin until Dec. 22 — may discourage students from canvassing out of state. Ludwig said her organization is conserving funds by not sending what would be a small number of people to New Hampshire.

She said a few members are considering going up to New Hampshire by themselves, but there will not be any group-led canvassing effort before the primaries.

But Yale for Obama, whose membership is about six times as large as that of Clinton’s group, is sending a contingent of 10 to 15 students up to New Hampshire this Saturday, Yale for Obama Campaign Director Ben Lazarus ’10 said. He said he thinks around 25 to 30 Obama supporters have gone on canvassing trips at least once this fall.

Brendan Gants ’08, the group’s communication director, said this weekend’s canvass will be the last official one before January’s voting.

“We break for reading week and finals and then our actual winter break,” Gants said. “There’s not much we can do as a group over winter break … But we plan to make information available for those individuals who want to help in early primary states.”

One of those individuals is Gabe Goffman ’10, who said the Iowa Obama campaign organization has made housing and eating arrangements for people who want to help out in Iowa before the caucuses. Goffman said he will work on the Iowa campaign from Dec. 26 to Jan. 4.

“I’ll be spending Christmas at home and then New Year’s in Iowa,” he said. “There is a give and take. The time for Iowa is not that good, because people want to spend time at home.”

He said the bunched primaries near the front of the calendar year restrict the number of out-of-state activists who could participate.

Ludwig said she expects that most individuals who take time out from break to work with campaigns will be those who live in or near states with early races.

“It would be a eastern seaboard thing,” she said. “It’s a long way from California.”

Roy Occhiogrosso, a Democratic strategist in Connecticut, said while the early primaries present a challenge to campaigns, the dates will not ultimately prove detrimental to reach-out efforts. He said state strategists had worried that Connecticut’s switch to an early August — rather than September — Congressional primary in 2004 would mean more apathy and lower turnout. But he said those concerns ended up being unfounded.

“I think every campaign cycle, it seems to start earlier and earlier,” Occhiogrosso said. “People try to figure out what it’s going to mean … I think campaigns are like human beings in the sense that they adapt.”

He said that when he first trained for campaigns operations he was warned by more experienced operatives never to interrupt people during the World Series or Monday Night Football. He said he thinks campaigns will treat holidays and Christmas Eve dinners with similar deference.

But student political group leaders said those students without the time to make the effort to campaign during the holidays are not out of luck.

Yale College Democrats President Eric Kafka ’08 said that after break, his group will focus on outreach in Connecticut. And because the organization does not make endorsements in primaries, he said, the group will become much more active after a candidate has been decided upon.

In 2004, the Iowa and New Hampshire presidential caucus and primary were held on Jan. 19 and Jan. 27, respectively.

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