First in the Nation

by Helen Horan | 11/7/18 2:15am

From Kennedy to Obama, from Reagan to Bush, countless presidents have visited our campus while still just hopeful candidates, their eager eyes set on the Oval Office yet their immediate efforts focused on New Hampshire voters. Dartmouth is a distinguished presidential campaign pit stop and has been host to a total of six presidential debates over the years. The walls of our college hold the promises of presidents’ past — their invigorating attempts to excite voters and spirited rhetoric during debates. 

For presidential candidates, the trip to the wooded enclave here in Hanover, New Hampshire is a popular and purposeful one. Dartmouth is a frequent (and early) stop along the campaign trail, providing students with a first-hand look at the election and the chance to meet potential future leaders of our nation. The combination of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, and its prominent swing state status, makes the state an essential place for candidates from both parties to focus their efforts. Nearly every politician who plans on running for president will concentrate first and foremost in New Hampshire and Iowa. 

Typically, candidates begin to show political seeds here one or two (or even three!) years in advance of the race, then return to the state again closer to the primary. 

For Max Brautigam ’20, president of the Dartmouth College Democrats, a stop in New Hampshire is “a statement ... not a conclusive statement, but it is a clue.” 

Political figures, such as Senator Cory Booker, generate momentum for themselves in the state through events such as the one at Dartmouth, which took place on Sunday, Oct. 28. Brautigam explained there is a decent chance Booker will run in 2020. However, the senator has not yet explicitly made an announcement. 

The College Democrats play an important role in bringing politicians to campus, thereby providing them a platform to speak and students the chance to listen. 

The New Hampshire Primary Season began early at Dartmouth last January with a visit from Democratic congressman John Delaney of Maryland, the first prominent Democrat to announce his running in the 2020 election. The College also hosted Democratic presidential prospects Martin O’Malley and Jason Kander last spring. Neither have definitively declared they are running in 2020, but O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, has expressed interest. Unfortunately, Kander’s candidacy seems less likely given his recent withdrawal from the Kansas City Mayoral race on account of PTSD. 

In terms of the 2020 race, government professor Linda Fowler believes the problem for the Democrats will be an excess of candidates. The situation of 2016 could repeat itself: too many candidates running splits up votes until one mild favorite develops a lead and cannot be stopped. However, no liberal Trump-like figure has emerged to date. For the number of candidates that do come to Dartmouth, which Fowler explained is less than the number that visits the University of New Hampshire or Saint Anselm, where a greater portion of New Hampshire’s population lives, those that are clear and optimistic will be successful. 

“A good candidate is one that has a clear message, has a message that is positive and is somebody who stays on message,” Fowler said. 

Brautigam noted that the College Democrats would love to host Kirsten Gillibrand again, a Dartmouth alumna and one of the most likely contenders for 2020, according to The Washington Post. Nonetheless, Brautigam explained that while presidential races get a lot of attention, they are only a fraction of the conversation. In terms of the actual laws and policies that affect people on a daily basis, the president is of little importance in comparison to local representatives. Brautigam reiterated the importance of voting in this year’s midterm elections in order to set the groundwork for the next few years.

In fact, many students actually choose to come to Dartmouth because of its politically active campus and the opportunities that arise in a “purple” state. And if politics is not an initial allure for students to the College, many still become more involved when they get here through the rallies, TV show tapings, Get Out The Vote events, and candidates’ lectures at town halls. 

Dartmouth can be considered a hub of political engagement, as controversial speakers stir up protests and students splash their nalgenes with political stickers. Still, throughout our nation, the turnout rate for young people to the polls is abysmally low, especially in midterms, lagging behind any other age group by a large amount. But the personal visits to campuses, i.e. to Dartmouth, especially by presidential candidates, seems to make a real difference in terms of voting. When a candidate invigorates the student body, civic engagement transcends from a chore to an exciting standard. Such is the case in 2008 when Obama visited.

A New York Times article recounting Obama’s visit to campus on primary day in 2008 claimed it was difficult to find a student that day who hadn’t voted and hadn’t voted for Obama . The article begins with, “If there was a place in the state of New Hampshire that Barack Obama could say he ‘owned’ — and he might use that exact word, when speaking to this crowd — it would be Dartmouth College.” Throughout his campaign, the former president visited Dartmouth a number of times for rallies and speeches. Obama’s youth and energy elevated the level of political excitement on campus. His enthusiastic welcome was unmatched by other candidates like Hillary Clinton or John Edwards; Bill Clinton even “bored” students to the point of them walking out during his speech, according to the article. But the personal and spiritual inspiration Obama captured caused many to get up and go to the polls.  

Hopefully, we will see this same fever repeat itself in the coming two years. Perhaps we can surpass the cruelty, emotionality and polarization that defines politics today and relive those brighter, now seemingly glorious, 2008 days of excitement, on both sides.