Joe Biden has spent the majority of his life as a U.S. senator. His 34 years in the Senate are more than twice the combined length of service of Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, his three chief rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Despite his experience, however, organized support for the Delaware senator at Yale does not extend much beyond a “Yale for Biden” Facebook group. An organized student group like those supporting several other candidates does not exist for the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and students involved in campus politics said they know of no plans to create such a group in the months before primary voting begins in January.
But Yalies supporting Biden said they are hopeful that his popularity will grow as the early primaries and caucuses approach.
Matthew Ellison ’10, the creator and administrator of the Biden Facebook group, admits that “the level of support just isn’t there” for a formal student organization. The Facebook group’s membership stands at six members — compared to 493 in Yale for Obama, 84 in Yale for Hillary and 13 in Yale for Edwards. But Ellison said it is too early to count Biden out.
Ellison, who worked for Biden’s campaign last summer, said the national campaign is focused intently on the Iowa caucuses, which he said are the true test of a candidate’s viability.
“If [Biden] can compete to get into the top three [in Iowa], then the hope is that the positive press coverage will lead people at Yale and around the country to say, ‘I’ve always liked Biden and now he did well in Iowa, so maybe I’ll support him,’ ” Ellison said.
Mark Paustenbach, National Press Secretary for Biden’s campaign, said he thinks support for Biden among college students is growing.
“Whenever he appears at events with large numbers of college students, we get a lot of converts from folks who have seen him for the first time,” Paustenbach said. “It will only get stronger as people start to pay attention to the race.”
Biden supporters said his Senate experience and Iraq plan distinguish him from the rest of the Democratic candidates.
“I think he has the clearest, most well-thought-out, most experienced voice on foreign policy,” said Tim Rivera ’10, a member of the Yale for Biden Facebook group. “He clearly has the experience necessary to get us out of Iraq in an intelligent way.”
According to Biden’s campaign Web site, his “five point plan” to end sectarian violence in Iraq would establish a federalist system under which three distinct regions — one Sunni, one Shiite and one Kurd — would be united by a single federal government. The plan calls for the withdrawal or redeployment of almost all U.S. troops by summer 2008, with the exception of a small residual force.
Paustenbach said Biden is the only candidate with a concrete plan for the Iraq war, an issue that college students take very seriously.
Students interviewed pointed to his 34 years of experience in the Senate as a compelling reason to vote for Biden. Ellison said Biden has proven his ability to garner bipartisan support through his work on the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees, as well as the Violence Against Women Act, the Biden Crime Bill and other legislation.
While Biden’s experience in the Senate is beyond doubt, many students interviewed said they do not think it makes him a more desirable candidate than others in the field.
“I think that Gov. [Bill] Richardson [of New Mexico] has a depth and breadth of experience that’s unequaled on either side, Democrat or Republican,” said Quinlan O’Connor ’10, leader of the Yale for Richardson group. As the only Democratic candidate who has served as an executive, Richardson brings the most relevant experience, O’Connor said.
Other students interviewed expressed concern over Biden’s ability to compete against the Republican candidate in a general election.
Rek LeCounte ’11, who is leaning towards voting for Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, said he cares about electability.
“Hillary has more support among the Democratic Party,” he said. “I think people honestly don’t know much about [Biden].”
But while some students expressed concerns about his electability and visibility, Biden advocates said they are hopeful that support for their candidate will grow. Ellison said that if Biden has a strong finish in Iowa, the Yale for Biden group will become a much more active force on campus.
The Iowa caucus is scheduled for Jan. 14, 2008.