By June Torbati/Staff Reporter
Before most undergraduates had even returned to New Haven from their winter breaks, Yale’s campus was already buzzing with campaign organizing in the run-up to what some have called “super-duper Tuesday” on Feb. 5, when 24 states are scheduled to hold their primary elections.
Hundreds of Connecticut supporters, grass-roots organizers and campaign officials for Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign convened Saturday morning at Yale’s Afro-American Cultural Center to urge locals to get involved in the Illinois freshman’s campaign in the remaining weeks before Connecticut’s primary.
A few miles north, in Wallingford, Senator Hillary Clinton’s LAW ’73 Connecticut supporters ratcheted up their campaign as well, just days after releasing a list of dozens of local and state officials who are supporting Clinton in her presidential bid.
Yale Students for Hillary President Ben Stango ’11 said in the coming weeks Clinton’s supporters on campus plan to raise visibility through postering and bringing a speaker from the campaign to Yale.
Former Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate Ned Lamont SOM ’80 publicly endorsed Obama’s candidacy last week, although the Greenwich businessman failed to make an appearance at the Obama campaign kickoff at the Af-Am House.
But several other prominent Connecticut Democrats who have endorsed Obama following Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd’s exit from the presidential race 10 days ago appeared at the meeting. In attendance were State Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney of New Haven, Connecticut Democratic Party Vice-Chair Steve Fontana, House of Representatives Deputy Majority Leader Demetrios Giannaros, Fairfield Mayor Ken Flatto and others.
Organizers urged volunteers to make the most of the few weeks remaining before Connecticut voters make their way to the polls.
“Connecticut matters,” Williams said. “The work we do is critical to the success of this campaign.”
Lex Paulson ’02, who organizes Obama volunteers in Connecticut’s fourth congressional district, said the meeting represented a turning point in the structure of the campaign.
“We’re moving from a volunteer-driven operation to one that is professionally staffed and more centrally controlled,” he said. “Today is a major, major transition for us.”
Paulson, who participated in the Yale College Democrats during his time on campus, said he first became involved in the Obama campaign after attending a meeting held by event coordinator Val McCall during his five-year college reunion in June. He said he thinks Obama’s candidacy is a chance for a “generational transition” in American politics.
“We get trapped in a lot of garbage baby-boomer issues,” he said, mentioning debates about candidates’ military-service records as one example.
Although Obama enjoys wide support among Yalies — a recent News poll found that he has the backing of 26.4 percent of undergraduates, compared to 12.1 percent for Clinton — supporters said Obama faces an uphill battle in Connecticut.
Flatto said Clinton, who represents neighboring New York, has a geographic advantage.
“[Clinton] has had more long-term exposure and people are more familiar with her,” he said.
The Clinton campaign released the names of the members of its Connecticut steering committee on Jan. 9. Among Clinton’s supporters in the state are New Haven’s state House representatives Juan Candelaria and William Dyson and Bridgeport mayor Bill Finch.
The Obama campaign will release the names of its Connecticut steering committee members within the coming week, Paulson said. One topic of discussion at the meeting Saturday was how volunteers could persuade their local officials to endorse Obama.
Stango said the Clinton kickoff meeting focused on organizing phone-banking efforts and a “college caravan” that will travel to campuses around the state in the weeks leading up to Feb. 5 in an effort to increase the campaign’s visibility among students.
Obama has thus far enjoyed more popularity among younger voters than Clinton, and his Connecticut organizers did not mention specific strategies for courting college-aged voters at their meeting Saturday.
Stango said the “college caravan” will be stressing Clinton’s attributes, not a “Hillary v. Obama” comparison.
“It’s more of ‘let’s talk about Hillary and what she’s about,’ ” Stango said. “She’s been able to really prove to me that what she’s talking about isn’t just a bunch of rhetoric. Also she’s just wicked smart. I think coming off the Bush administration, that’s always a nice thing to have.”
Elizabeth Fry GRD ’12, who spent the days before the New Hampshire primary campaigning door to door for Obama, said his transcendence of typical political partisanship was what attracted her to the candidate most.
“If we want something to happen, we need someone who can actually bring people together,” Fry said.
In the most recent poll of Connecticut residents published Nov. 8 by Quinnipiac University, Clinton led Obama by 26 percentage points, with 45 percent of respondents favoring Clinton and 19 percent of respondents saying they would vote for Obama in the primary.