WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 10,000 people descended on the nation’s capital Thursday for the largest annual gathering of conservatives in the country — and a Yale-led political action committee was among them.
Contenders for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination jostled for position at the three-day Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this weekend. A delegation of about 50 college students from the Yale-led Students Initiative to Draft Daniels canvassed in favor of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who has yet to announce whether he will run.
While the students, whose pro-Daniels television ads have gained national attention, spent the bulk of their time handing out pamphlets and merchandise in support of Daniels, they were able to secure a private question-and-answer session with the governor.
MEETING THE MAN
Daniels came in eighth in the CPAC straw poll — a survey of 3,742 attendees about presidential contenders and a barometer for the American conservative movement, according to conference organizers — and lost to last year’s winner, Texas congressman Ron Paul. Despite this defeat, he made a good impression on pundits from The Daily Beast, Politico and Politics Daily, who praised his policy-focused speech at the Ronald Reagan Banquet Friday night.
In the speech, Daniels explained his outlook on American politics but refrained from making statements about a possible run for the presidency.
At a question-and-answer session with members of the Student Initiative to Draft Daniels just before the Reagan banquet speech, Daniels was also noncommittal about his candidacy.
“I have to tell you, very honestly, that there is an excellent chance I do not run for any other office,” Daniels said during the hour-long meeting. The governor’s press secretary arranged the session in recognition of the groups’ support, said Max Eden ’11, the group’s founder and national director.
When pressed on when he might announce whether he will run for his party’s nomination, Daniels said he will do so in the coming months. On the whole, he said, the usual political maneuvering that precedes the Republican presidential primaries seems to be occurring later than usual. Potential candidates typically announce their intention to run and begin to mobilize their campaigns about a year before the first Republican primaries, which will begin in Feburary 2012.
By this time in 2007, four candidates had officially filed their papers to run for the Republican nomination. But Jimmy McMillan, a registered Democrat from New York who founded the “Rent is Too Damn High Party” and filmed an ad for the Student Initiative to Draft Daniels, is the only politician to declare his candidacy so far.
Still, Daniels had much to say about the rest of the Republican field and potential policy positions he would hold if he were to run for president, in addition to his current job as the governor of Indiana.
He also joked about the nature of the meeting and the Student Intiative to Draft Daniels.
“You ought to have the chance to check out the merchandise personally,” Daniels quipped about the students’ online campaign, started before any of their members had met him. “I don’t know if Max [Eden] has a refund policy, but when you’re selling goods over the Internet you ought to.”
As Daniels was whisked away by his press team, Initiative member Courtney Pannell ’11 handed the governor some of the merchandise students had distributed to CPAC attendees: T-shirts bearing Daniels’ face and the word “solvency,” parodying Shepard Fairey’s iconic Barack Obama “hope” shirts.
(Pannell is a former multimedia editor for the News.)
“We had expected a quick handshake and photo-op and the governor gave us an hour,” Eden said. “His time and candor reaffirmed everything we have been working towards.”
BACK ON CAMPUS
The Student Initiative to Draft Daniels will continue its work after CPAC, Eden said. Trevor Wagener ’11, the group’s executive director, said the group’s ad featuring McMillan and a possible motto for the campaign — “the deficit is too damn high” — will air in Washington, D.C. on a Fox affiliate station Monday night during a syndicated episode of “Seinfeld.”
Wagener added that the group is in early-to-mid stage negotiations to run the ad in Phoenix, New York City, Miami and Chicago media markets.
Knowles, who was interviewed by reporters from the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the US News & World Report and other media organizations, said he is encouraged by the attention the group and Daniels have received. Eden said the Initiative raised over $1,000 during CPAC, and anticipates more donations in coming weeks.
Other Yalies participated at CPAC, though not in affiliation with the Student Intiative to Draft Daniels. Alice Wang ’12 spoke on a panel of 20 high school and college students Friday afternoon. Each student gave a two-minute speech about their work to advance the conservative movement on their campuses. Wang spoke about bringing Karl Rove to New Haven as well as her efforts to revive federalism at Yale.
Despite an increased interest in conservative politics on campus, Yale’s Democrats continue to build upon a strong base of student interest. Marina Keegan ’12, president of the Yale College Democrats, said her group is as strong as ever.
“Our meetings are bigger, our lobbying campaigns more ambitious. If we wanted to make commercials promoting Democrats, we could,” she said. “We have a purpose that goes beyond publicity — we’re here to serve a community of progressive, political-minded Yalies who want to make a real difference.”Wagener — who is also president of the Yale College Republicans — said there are a “handful” of active campus Republicans who do not support Daniels. Still, the Yale College Republicans have extensive overlap with the Student Initiative to Draft Daniels.
The next United States presidential election will take place Nov. 6, 2012.