Student campaign workers get ready for a breather

by Ritika Nandkeolyar | 11/1/00 6:00am

Nov. 7 is a much anticipated day for a lot of citizens -- but it is especially so for the approximately 100 students actively supporting their favorite local, state and national candidates in upcoming elections.

The Dartmouth spoke with nine of these students and asked them to assess their experiences on the campaign trail. These students have individually spent hundreds of hours over the past year canvassing local residents, handing out literature and holding up signs on behalf of Democrats, Republicans and Greens.

They are looking forward to Tuesday, since not only will they finally know the election results, but also after celebrating their victories (or lamenting their losses), they will finally be able to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

Committed campaigners

"A lot of people decry apathy at Dartmouth, however there is actually a lot of interest in politics," said Emmett Hogan '01, campus chair for the George W. Bush campaign.

This is true even for people who aren't involved with campaigns, Hogan said. "People keep themselves informed. They may not be on the frontlines but still keep aware and hopefully intend to vote. That implies a certain level of interest."

Hogan, from Chicago, Ill., said that although he followed past elections, he was never actively involved in them. But college seemed a logical venue at which to become active.

Over the past 15 months, he has worked to keep students informed and connected to the Bush campaign. Hogan has mobilized approximately 40 students to hand out literature, attend Bush rallies, poll voters and help out on election day.

A similar number of students have also participated in campaign activities for Democratic candidates.

Nina Basu '02, from Scaggsville, Md., is the campus head of the Coordinated Campaign for the Democrats. She oversees student involvement in Democratic campaigns in five different levels of government -- ranging from the presidential race to the state-representative contest.

Basu and about 30 other members of Dartmouth's Young Democrats have regularly worked on 'lit drops,' or going door-to door to distribute literature, 'phone banking,' or calling potential voters to convince them to vote Democrat, and 'visibility,' or holding up campaign signs at local events.

A third party also has support on campus -- about 15 students are active members of Dartmouth's fledging Green Party. They've attended Ralph Nader rallies and promoted Green Party issues on campus.

While the initial reasons for joining campaigns varied among students who were interviewed by The Dartmouth, all were very enthusiastic about their candidates.

"I took an online poll to see which candidate I match, and I had a 98 percent correlation with Bush," Hogan said. "Bush probably wouldn't score so well with himself."

Nader supporter Audra Gatts '04, from Columbus, Ohio, said she is voting her conscience in the upcoming election. "My original plan was to work on the campaign but vote for Gore to keep Bush out of office, but somewhere along the line I changed my mind. As Nader says, if you don't vote with your conscience now, you are never going to."

Gatts said the overriding goal of the Nader campaign is to win more than five percent of the vote. Reaching this threshold would make the Green Party eligible for federal matching funds in the next election cycle.

Brian Stults '02, from Nashville, Tenn., is campaign manager for Bob Gienko '01 and is also the coordinator for New Hampshire Students for Gore/Lieberman. Gienko is a Republican candidate for the local seat in the New Hampshire State Legislature.

When asked how he reconciled working for both Democratic and Republican candidates, Stults stressed that his candidates have very bipartisan approaches to government.

Stults said he was heavily involved with volunteer work in high school and that he had a personal transformation at Dartmouth that inspired him to become involved with politics. "I realized that making a difference doesn't have to be on an individual level, it can also be affecting society," he said.

For Karsten Barde '04, from Porterville, Calif., it was seeing Ralph Nader speak at Boston's Fleet Center that made him want to get involved in the campaign.

"Many Nader supporters have not voted for a long time because of their disenchantment with the process," Barde said. "So, Nader's five or six percent is firmer in terms of their reliability than an equivalent five or six percent for Gore or Bush."

Green Party Campus co-organizer John Brett '00, from Wenatschee, Wash., said he actually worked on former Senator Bob Dole's failed bid in the last presidential election and attended the 1996 Republican National Convention as a youth delegate.

"My political beliefs haven't changed that much. I'm still committed to the rhetorical ideals of the Republican party," he said, adding that he felt those ideals are better met by Nader.

"He is progressive and non-partisan," Brett said, adding that several Republican committee members at the New Hampshire state level have endorsed Nader. "He transcends the words liberal and conservative."

On the ground

The student campaigners emphasized that they believe their efforts have been important, and they have benefited personally from the experience as well.

Much of the work that Dartmouth students have been involved is not glamorous, said Kathleen Reeder '03, from Acron, Ohio, who is president of College Republicans. "But, it is the important core of the campaigns -- meeting people and letting them know what the candidate stands for," Reeder said.

Hogan agreed on the importance of grassroots efforts. "Even during the presidential race, it is the men and women on the ground who are really important -- the ones who put the signs in the window, the literature in the door," he said.

Vijay Rao '03, from Los Angeles, Calif., is the campus/youth coordinator for the Charlie Bass '74 campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rao said his experience campaigning has made him feel much better about the process.

"I used to be cynical," he said. "But after working on two campaigns [Sen. John McCain's primary race and Bass's] where we worked from difficult positions and which were successes -- McCain started from onepercent in the state and he beat Bush in this area -- I feel my involvement does make a difference. And, my marginal difference can lead to an overall difference."

"Campaigning is very hard -- you have to go to events and raise money," said Acting President of Young Democrats Tim Razel '03, of East Hampton, Conn. Razel worked over the summer as a finance intern for state representative-hopeful Barney Brannen. "Brannen works so hard that he doesn't even go home, his schedule is so packed. He just sleeps wherever he is."

New Hampshire matters

The College's location in New Hampshire, the state which holds the first party primaries in the presidential elections, has made it easy for Dartmouth students to become involved.

Last October, Dartmouth hosted the "First in the Nation," Democrat and Republican debates where presidential hopefuls seeking the party nominations squared off for the first time.

The candidates and their parties continue to focus efforts in the local region, since New Hampshire is one of eight swing states that could decide the contest. One Republican rally this Friday at the Manchester Airport will feature vice-presidential hopeful Dick Cheney, Senator Judd Gregg, Congressman Bass, Congressman John Sununu and gubernatorial candidate Gordon Humphrey.

But with all the attention focused on national candidates, it is easy to forget about local issues.

"It is easy to not think that you are New Hampshire residents," Basu said. "But you are here for five years."

Thanks to campaigning, "I know the geography of this area, the issues which matter" Basu said. "I'm meeting all these people I would never have normally met as a Dartmouth student."