The combined sense of excitement and urgency at the possibility of retaking Congress for the first time since 1994 is driving liberal students off campus and into surrounding electoral districts in hopes of educating voters and increasing turnout.
A student coalition led by the Yale College Democrats and Students for a New American Politics (SNAP) sent about 60 students canvassing Saturday for Connecticut’s most competitive congressional races. Students sought to speak with undecided voters, answering questions and allaying concerns about Democratic candidates Joe Courtney, Diane Farrell and Chris Murphy, who are running to replace Republican incumbents in the 2nd, 4th and 5th districts, respectively.
Eric Kafka ’08, campaign coordinator for the College Democrats, said he was pleased with the number of students who came out to canvass. Kafka said that beyond simply helping from a political standpoint, the students who participated had enjoyed the opportunity to converse with their fellow citizens.
“It was invigorating to discuss the future of the country with people outside the Yale bubble,” Kafka said.
The College Democrats have two subsequent canvassing Saturdays planned — the next on Oct. 14, and the other on pre-election weekend, on Nov. 4 — and Kafka said he expects the number of students involved to increase in the following canvassing trips. He said he thinks the chance to directly affectg these tight congressional races and thereby influence the future direction of the nation’s politics will encourage students to take time from their busy schedules to become a part of the political process.
Gabe Goffman ’10 also said he thinks the canvassing will directly help the Democratic campaigns in the upcoming elections.
“Almost every voter I talked to was undecided or already supporting Diane [Farrell], so it was time well spent,” Goffman said. “The undecided voters were very willing to listen, and we were able to inform a lot of voters about the various issues.”
He said the primary concerns for many voters were not the ones attracting the most national attention.
“Not many people brought up the war in Iraq,” Goffman said.
Instead, he said they were concerned about health care, education and rising taxes.
“These issues … are the bread and butter of Diane Farrell’s campaign,” he said.
Abby McCartney ’10 echoed the enthusiasm expressed by the other canvassers.
“I’m excited to be working on races that matter,” she said. “Being from Texas, we’re not used to having a chance.”
McCartney said the experience was engaging — and not only because of the great weather in the small New England town where she canvassed.
“I was working in Chris Murphy’s hometown, and although some [residents] knew he was from there, some were surprised,” she said. “It was nice to be able to tell them he lived down the street.”
Marissa Levendis ’07, SNAP’s executive director, said her organization has been working with many campuses to try to form broad coalitions with students from myriad social and activity groups. SNAP, a national group dedicated to electing progressive, but not necessarily Democratic Party-affiliated, candidates, helps with organization for the canvassing trips, in addition to providing support to people working on Ned Lamont’s Senate campaign. At Yale, students will continue to register voters and work for Lamont throughout the semester. Levendis expressed optimism for the coming elections.
“It’s an exciting time for progressives here and all over the country,” she said.
But conservative students are not letting their voices be silenced either on or off Yale’s campus. Alex Yergin ’07, president of the Yale College Republicans, said his group has been just as actively involved as the liberal groups, organizing weekly trips to talk to and register voters.
“We’ve been assisting the various local campaigns, as well as the governor’s race,” he said.
Yergin said Republicans are confident they will succeed in holding on to the incumbent seats in the Connecticut races.
What organizers from both parties stressed, though, was the need to recruit as many different students as possible to their causes.
Brendan Gants ’08, president of the College Democrats, said he hoped to have over 100 members by the end of the year, and he emphasized the national implications of the local races as key to convincing students to join the campaign.
“With control of the House at stake … every student with any interest in the outcome of the elections should get involved this semester, when it matters the most,” Gants said.