Elis for Obama hope for ‘symbolic’ victory in R.I.

As the March 4 presidential primaries approach, the focus for most national pundits and journalists — as well as Yale for Hillary — may be on Texas and Ohio, but members of Yale for Obama have their eyes on a much smaller, and closer, prize.

A group of Elis supporting Sen. Barack Obama will return this Saturday for the third consecutive weekend to Rhode Island, where they will knock on doors and distribute literature as they look to shore up the Illinois legislator’s delegates lead in the run-up to The Ocean State’s primary next week.

Members of Yale for Obama hope their efforts will help boost Obama in a region that he has struggled to win over, even as he has racked up victories in 11 straight nominating contests in other parts of the country.

“So far, New England is Hillary’s strong point, except for Connecticut,” said Rachel Wolf ’11, who has canvassed for Obama in New Hampshire, where he lost, and, last week, in Rhode Island. “Rhode Island would be a symbolic victory. I think it will be important on a national scale. We want to show that Obama has support in the New England region.”

But Yale Students for Hillary has been focusing its efforts on more distant states. President Ben Stango ’11 said the group has joined up with Clinton staffer Addisu Demissie ’01 LAW ’08 and is working directly with other law students and members of the graduate-school community to drum up support for the New York senator in the two delegate-rich states that will vote on Tuesday.

“We’ve been doing mostly phone calls to Ohio and Texas — phone banks reaching out to identify voters,” Stango said. “When we decide to do a phone bank, we contact around 200 people.”

In addition to organizing centralized phone banks, Stango said, Yale Students for Hillary has urged members to take phone scripts home to use in their spare time.

Jacob Koch ’10, campus coordinator for Yale for Obama, said his group has also been calling voters in Texas precincts that, along with other supporters in Connecticut, they have “adopted.” But because of its political make-up, Rhode Island presented a unique canvassing opportunity that the group could not pass up, he said.

“Rhode Island is an interesting state because it’s pretty solidly Democratic now, but it’s a conservative type of Democrat that you find there,” Koch said. “This is represented best by Lincoln Chaffee, the [former] Republican senator who is now independent and who has endorsed Obama. He used to be mayor of Warwick, actually, so when we canvas there we emphasize his endorsement.”

Sam Brill ’10, who is also canvassing for Obama in Rhode Island, said he thinks the state is similar in many ways to Connecticut, which Obama won. Both states’ primaries are receiving national attention for the first time in recent memory this year, he said, with the result that many voters he talks to are “shocked” to discover that their votes matter.

As they did in Connecticut, Brill said, group members hope to use a grassroots get-out-the-vote effort to ensure high voter participation on primary day.

About 10 group members went to Rhode Island last week, Koch said, and he anticipates that somewhere between 20 and 25 will make the trip this weekend, on the final weekend before the vote.

“We hope this will be the last work we do in the primary,” he said. “But there is the chance things will go on to Pennsylvania, and then we’ll go down to Philly.”

After next Tuesday’s primaries, Wyoming will have the next caucus on March 8.

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