January 27, 2004

Students Pledge Support to Candidates

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Before they returned to shop for classes, some Cornellians were hard at work selling voters on their favorite Democratic presidential candidates. While today the candidates fight for every vote in the Granite State, at Cornell their former volunteers are confident.

Howard Dean supporters point to the latest Zogby poll, which shows a statistical dead heat with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in New Hampshire, as the clearest sign yet that the former Vermont governor’s campaign has recovered from defeat in Iowa.

“If Kerry were to win in New Hampshire, Dean can take it to him in state after state after state,” said Peter S. Cohl ’04, president of Cornell’s Students for Dean chapter, citing Dean’s grassroots fundraising and organizational strength.

“Democrats want to be Democrats again, they don’t want to be … ‘Republican lite,'” Cohl said.

Cohl was impressed by the Dean campaign office’s receptiveness, as some political papers he sent there resulted in a phone call from former Dean campaign manager Rick Ridder. One of Dean’s early television appearances also made a strong impact on Cohl.

“He came across as not a smarty-pants nerd, but somebody who spoke with authority but at the same time was [a] regular guy,” Cohl said.

Kerry overcame his early stumbles in Iowa by refocusing voters’ attention on his Senate and foreign policy experience that is “really unmatched by any of his rivals,” according to Matt Gewolb ’04, who heads Students for Kerry.

“[Kerry] doesn’t set me on fire when he speaks, but he’s not flat. I don’t really care [about] presentation, but I do care about how sincere [candidates] are,” said Jonah Green ’06, a Kerry volunteer in Iowa.

Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), who finished a surprising second in Iowa, was one candidate Green frequently battled against when talking to Iowans.

“Whenever someone said they liked Edwards we’d say we liked him too, but Kerry has national security and foreign affairs [experience] under his belt,” Green added. “I’d love to see him as a vice president.”

Yet Rachel Gage ’04, a summer intern for Edwards, doesn’t think her candidate needs to settle for a vice-presidential nod, as some onlookers have suggested.

“He’s very smart, and I think people might tend to underestimate him because he’s so young and inexperienced politically,” Gage said.

“He has this good picture, and he’s stayed with it,” Gage said of Edwards’ campaign vision and efforts to avoid negative campaign tactics.

While Dean supporters have a large, organized group on campus, Jonathan Ludwig ’03 believes that as New York’s March 2 primary approaches, retired Gen. Wesley Clark can also generate support at Cornell.

As people learn about Clark and his broad support, Ludwig said, “you’ll see more action and organization on campus.”

While Clark is a high-profile candidate with a relatively small organizational base in Ithaca, Dennis Kucinich enjoys a complete reversal: strong local support but low polling numbers in New Hampshire.

“You can [see] by observing the reporting on the debates and the campaign trail how the national media ignore and marginalize [Kucinich],” wrote Dave Kraskow, from Ithaca’s Supporters for Dennis Kucinich, in an e-mail.

This year’s primary, and especially the “powerful” Dean organizing model, may have a profound effect on campaign methods, according to Prof. Jefferson Cowie, collective bargaining, labor law and labor history. Relying on small donors, “extensive use of the Internet” and supporter-organized meet-up parties is “pretty provocative,” Cowie said, as is the “move from mail-based to e-mail-based solicitation.”

Even if unable to agree on a candidate, some Democratic supporters believe the primaries are helping to articulate opposition to President George W. Bush.

“We’ve pushed Bush off the news — [his] State of the Union address was talked about for half a day, and then [media attention] was back to the Democratic primaries,” Cohl said.

Supporters of each Democratic campaign will speak at a forum on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Women’s Community Building auditorium on Seneca Street.

Archived article by Dan Galindo