Paid Bush supporters cause uproar

by Mark Henle and Kaitlin Bell | 11/1/04 6:00am

State Democrats reacted quickly when the Republican Party, trying to garner last-minute support with New Hampshire's swing voters, began paying part-time workers $75 this weekend to devote a day to the Bush campaign -- especially in liberal areas like Hanover.

Democratic field organizers in the area alerted supporters and volunteers Friday about students from nearby colleges who had been paid to hold Bush-Cheney signs and wear campaign stickers on the Green.

The program, meant to boost volunteer numbers in key swing states, is offered nationally, with students from less contentious states like Vermont being bussed into swing states to campaign for President Bush. The College Republicans began offering this opportunity to Dartmouth students Sunday and will continue to do so through Election Day.

In some cases, the Bush-Cheney workers who lined the east side of the Green Friday supported neither Bush nor his opponent, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

David Carney, 21, a senior from St. Michael's College in Vermont, has already cast an absentee ballot for Ralph Nader in his home state of California. The self-described socialist said he's tried to find a job, and this was the only work he could get.

"I need food. I haven't had a job for so many months," Carney said. "I've got to buy groceries."

The money has attracted Carney and other students from colleges in the region such as Vermont University and Norwich University. In contrast to volunteers for Kerry, who stood waving signs on the corner of the sidewalk, most of the Bush-Cheney campaigners sat listlessly on the Green's senior fence, wearing campaign stickers but not brandishing signs.

A few said they were ardent Bush supporters, but the majority said they just needed the money.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party was quick to disparage the Bush-Cheney team for paying people to campaign.

Kathleen Strand, the New Hampshire Democratic Party press secretary, characterized the program as a sign of the Republican Party's inability to energize young supporters in New Hampshire.

"John Kerry and John Edwards and Democrats across New Hampshire have inspired thousands of volunteers to flood New Hampshire, and we don't need to pay them," Strand said.

However, Aaron Graham, Dartmouth's College Republicans field representative, disagreed, arguing that those willing to volunteer were probably either supporters of Bush or ambivalent. The program, The program started on Thursday nationwide, with about 200 people (35 at Dartmouth) participating thus far, according to the College Republicans.

"If they're still working for Bush, then they're not hardcore Kerry fans and are probably undecided," Graham said. "I wouldn't work for Kerry for $75."

He also argued that the money was a way to compensate students who already back the president.

"They're trying to entice students who already support Bush. It's just an incentive to go out and support a candidate they're already behind," Graham said.

This type of monetary incentive is not illegal or without precedent. In his $90 million bid for a New Jersey Senate seat, Democratic candidate John Corzine compensated homeless people from northeastern Pennsylvania who would hold signs in New Jersey's streets with $75 a day and all the food they could eat.

Other students standing on East Wheelock Street also discussed their motivation for rallying. Several students from Norwich University declined to be named, but said the pay enticed them.

"A lot of people will only do things cause you give them money -- that's why we're here. Other than that, we'd be asleep," said one female sophomore from New Jersey.

One 18-year-old freshman from Richford, Vt., said he still doesn't know whom he will vote for Tuesday. Bush's treatment of the war in Iraq bothers him, he said, but he likes Bush's domestic policies, like his opposition to abortion.

Two others, both females from Norwich University, said they were not planning to vote.

A few yards away, Emily Eldredge, 29, was holding a "Vote Kerry" sign. Eldredge, a New Yorker spending the last days before the election volunteering for the Kerry campaign in New Hampshire, said she thinks it reflects poorly on the Bush campaign to pay sign holders.

"I'm glad there are kids paying for their groceries," Eldredge said, "but I think it's a sad reflection on the campaign that they need to pay people to do this."

But Sarah Osting, a Norwich University sophomore from Centreville, Tenn., and Jack Chandler, a senior at Norwich, said they are staunch Bush supporters who would be standing in Hanover with signs -- money or no money.

"I'm voting for Bush," said Chandler, adding that he likes that Bush is a practicing Christian and supports the military. "He has good morals. I think he's doing what he believes is right."

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