Six-hundred-eighty-seven days ago, the first major candidate declared that he may run for president; the race for the White House had begun. But some would say that the real campaign doesn’t begin until tonight.
On the eve of the first presidential debate, members of the Yale College Democrats and Yale for Obama continue to recruit students on campus to secure swing-state votes for Sen. Barack Obama. Supporters of the Republican candidate Sen. John McCain, meanwhile, have remained far less visible on the University’s historically liberal campus.
Both Obama and McCain campus groups have hosted watch parties for key campaign events, but otherwise, the groups have diverged in the scope of their efforts, representatives from both Democratic and Republican student groups said.
In addition to hosting regular phone-banking sessions targeting swing-states such as Pennsylvania and Florida, organizers said, the Dems are organizing trips to canvass door to door in New Haven, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, students involved with Yale for McCain said their group is currently focusing on recruitment, rather than campaigning. But, the group’s president said he is confident that it is just a matter of time before their efforts pay off.
For now, though, the groups’ relative visibilities continue to reflect the campus’ political spectrum.
Jacob Koch ’10, the campus coordinator for Yale for Obama said the group has “revamped” its efforts since last spring, when the Democratic primary was on the top of the agenda. Now, he said, Yale for Hillary organizers have also taken leading roles in campus campaign efforts for Obama, particularly in phone banking.
“It’s a non-issue with former Hillary supporters,” he said. “I think people realize how scary John McCain is — it’s a pretty strong motivating factor.”
Plus, with 100 students attending the launch meeting this semester, he said, the group has been able to distribute its efforts out to swing states, since Connecticut has been “a safely blue state” since the 1992 presidential election when Bill Clinton LAW ’73 won.
Yale for Obama, Koch said, has been canvassing every weekend — at times with up to 45 volunteers — particularly in Pennsylvania, and plans to continue doing so.
Ben Shaffer ’09, president of the Yale College Democrats said in-person contact is crucial in swaying people’s vote.
“This election is going to be won by the field operation,” Shaffer said. “The Obama campaign is based on getting people re-energized about politics. People aren’t as persuaded by TV ads as you might think, but if you show up on someone’s doors, arguing for your cause, that makes a big difference.”
Although most of the Dems presidential campaign efforts are focused out of state, within Connecticut, Shaffer emphasized the importance of electing Democrat Jim Himes as the congressional representative of Connecticut’s 4th district.
If elected, Himes would replace incumbent Chris Shays, currently the only Republican congressional representative in the New England area.
While supporters of Sen. Obama are active both on campus and off, Yale for McCain has taken a much more subdued approach to backing the Arizona senator.
Brad Galiette ’08 SOM ’11, president of Yale for McCain, explained that the group’s activities to date have been limited watching the Republican National Convention as a group.
“Our Convention watching party was a success — we attracted between two- and three-dozen students,” he said. “To build on that success, we are in the process of planning debate watching events over the next several weeks.”
When asked about current Yale for McCain activities, Galiette responded that the group is still in the process of recruiting more members.
“Currently we are trying to reach out to potential McCain supporters,” he said. “But within the next week or two, we are looking to broaden our profile on campus.”
Yale for McCain does face the additional obstacle of a smaller base of McCain supporters on campus.
On facebook.com, for example, the Yale for Obama group had 773 members as of last night, while Yale for McCain had only 150 as of last night.
Galiette, a former director of finance for the News, said he thinks McCain has been doing well considering its disadvantage in numbers.
“Potential McCain supporters make up a smaller percentage of the Yale population,” Galiette said. “We are attracting an equal proportion of [our candidate’s potential supporters], which in this political climate, is a success.”
About half of the McCain supporters contacted Thursday evening were critical of the seemingly minimal efforts of pro-McCain campus groups.
Specifically, they said they are disappointed by the lack of any planned canvassing or phone-banking efforts in support of their candidate.
Matthew Klein ’09, president of the Yale College Republicans, did not return several requests for comment late Thursday evening.
The first presidential debate, which will be held at the University of Mississippi, is tentatively scheduled for tonight at 9 p.m.