Students rally around Bernie Sanders' campaign

by Parker Richards | 9/17/15 8:23pm

As enthusiasm for Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., swells in New Hampshire and nationally, Dartmouth students have begun to organize more aggressively for the self-described democratic socialist.

Online, the Sanders presence is palpable on Dartmouth social media. Following a live streamed conference with Sanders on July 29 that reached over 100,000 people throughout the country, a group of Dartmouth students created an web presence and began to organize events for students supporting his campaign.

“This has really just kind of grown out of that first event,” Felicia Teter ’13, an organizer for the Sanders campaign at Dartmouth, said. “There are people who are passionate about that and wanted to form a group.”

The Dartmouth Students and Staff for Bernie group on Facebook had 195 members as of press time, far ahead of the corresponding Dartmouth for Hillary Clinton group, which has 86. Dartmouth for Martin O’Malley, a group supporting the former Maryland governor, had 156 members.

Though Teter said that there have been four key organizers for Sanders at Dartmouth, Robert Wright III ’18, another campus organizer for Sanders’ campaign, said that 15 people came to the group’s last meeting on Tuesday.

The Bernie 2016 campaign will open its Upper Valley office in West Lebanon on Sunday, Teter said. She will join local campaign staff in speaking at the event and said that a good turnout could help convince Sanders to come to the Upper Valley or Dartmouth’s campus as part of his campaign.

The Sanders supporters on campus will also organize weekly phone banking, canvassing and voter registration efforts in the coming weeks.

Sanders supporters are hoping to expand their efforts beyond the New Hampshire primary and the official Sanders campaign. Dartmouth students who support Sanders’ presidential campaign are considering creating a new organization, Dartmouth Progressives, to advance democratic socialist ideas beyond this election, Wright said.

“It’s not just about his candidacy. There needs to be a mass movement of people that he calls the ‘political revolution,’” Wright said. “We can continue the political revolution that he’s trying to build to begin to end the apathy that was both caused by the political mess and now is perpetrating it.”

Many of Sanders’ campaign staffers in the Upper Valley believe the region could be crucial to winning New Hampshire, Wright said.

Co-president of the Dartmouth College Democrats Maddie Cooper ’16 said that she was excited by the amount of enthusiasm generated by political campaigns on campus. Although College Democrats does not endorse any candidates in the primary, individual members can be involved in campaigns, she said.

“Dartmouth really plays an important role in all elections in New Hampshire,” she said. “One of the incredible things about New Hampshire is that it doesn’t take a lot to make a real difference because we’re in a really small state.”

Cooper said that the College Democrats are looking forward to hosting more candidates on campus. Clinton and O’Malley have both appeared at the College in the past several months, and Sanders has come to the College at numerous points in the past.

“I’m already seeing a lot of excitement about the primaries and a lot of excitement about the candidates, and I think it’s wonderful how many students are engaged and involved at this point in the process,” she said.

Clinton supporters at the College are not as organized as the Dartmouth Students and Staff for Bernie group, and they lack a formal organization, Charlotte Blatt ’18, a Clinton supporter who created the Dartmouth for Hillary Clinton Facebook group, said. Blatt, who is former vice president of the College Democrats and currently serves as their first-year outreach coordinator, said she spoke only for herself and not for the organization at large.

Recent polling has shown Sanders beating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., by large margins in New Hampshire. A CBS News and YouGov poll conducted between Sept. 3 and Sept. 10 showed Sanders leading Clinton 52 percent to 30 percent, with Vice President Joe Biden, who has not yet announced if he will run, polling at 9 percent. Six consecutive polls since the beginning of August have shown Sanders leading Clinton in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire will hold the nation’s first primary on Feb. 9, 2016. Iowa will hold a caucus on Feb. 1. Sanders has also built a lead in Iowa in recent polls, leading by a 10 percent margin in another CBS News and YouGov poll, also conducted between Sept. 3 and Sept. 10. Clinton’s national lead has also been falling, and a poll run by Ipsos/Reuters from Sept. 7 to Sept. 11 found Clinton leading Sanders by just 8 percent, 39 percent to 31 percent. Biden received 16 percent.

As late as Aug. 3, a Morning Consult poll found Clinton leading Sanders by 60 percent to 16 percent nationally. Her lead eroded since.

Sanders represents Vermont in the U.S. Senate, which might be helping to increase enthusiasm in New Hampshire, particularly in the Upper Valley region, Wright said.

Both Wright and Teter cited Sanders’ views on campaign finance reform as a major factor in their support for him.

“He is actually a person for the people instead of a person for a select group of people, if you have enough money to buy in,” Teter said.

Wright said that Sanders’ refusal to accept contributions or support from super PACs demonstrated his commitment to his ideals and average Americans.

“Money in politics is one of the root causes of every problem that seems to not be solved for decades, and [Sanders] is the only one not using a super PAC, and he’s got the most small donations of any candidate on either side,” Wright said. “He’s the only one who is both proposing real solutions to the problems of elections and politics being corrupted by campaign contributions and lobbyists and also acting as if he is really motivated by this by refusing to use super PACs.”

Blatt said that Clinton’s “Democratic pragmatism” was a key factor in her support for the former Secretary of State’s campaign.

“She takes a lot of liberal ideas and puts them into a context that could actually be implemented in our government,” Blatt said.

Both Sanders and Clinton supporters said that they hope to capitalize on New Hampshire’s early primary and the high degree of visibility it receives from candidates to make an impact on the race.

“I do think that one of the coolest things about going to college in New Hampshire is that anyone who wants to get involved in politics really can get involved from the get-go,” Blatt said.