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Student groups stump for their favorite candidates

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Correction appended.

Though Rhode Island’s primary is still more than a month away, students are already turning out to support their favorite candidates. Political groups across campus are gearing up for Feb. 5 ­- Super Tuesday ­- when 24 states will hold primaries or caucuses.

The goal of Brown Students for Barack Obama was to “hit the ground running,” said Herald Opinions Columnist Max Chaiken ’09, chapter coordinator. The group held its first meeting of the semester last week with 60 students in attendance, where approximately half of the attendees were newcomers to the group, and it has seen an increase in its number of listserv members since last semester. The group is part of a national organization founded early last year and is the most active chapter in the state, holding events almost daily since the start of the semester.

“Our focus from last semester to this semester has changed a bit,” Chaiken said. “Primarily just because of the change in what we need to be doing to get Barack elected. That’s really the primary goal.”

Though Brown Students for Barack Obama focused last semester on increasing its visibility on campus with events such as an open mic night at Blue State Coffee, the group is now focused on expanding Obama’s appeal to voters. Student volunteers hold phone banks on an almost nightly basis to identify supporters and garner interest in Obama’s campaign. Chaiken estimates that the group has identified approximately 50 supporters through phone calls, which are made from a list compiled by Obama’s national office. Last semester, the group often received direct initiatives from the national office, such as being asked to identify all “early state” voters on campus ­- students whose home states hold primaries early in the season. The organization has received fewer direct requests this semester but continues to use the national office to obtain phone lists and establish contacts.

The group has also been canvassing in Massachusetts and New Hampshire on weekends and afternoons. Massachusetts voters will head to the polls next Tuesday, while New Hampshire held its primary on Jan. 8. Once the Feb. 5 primaries have ended, the group will turn directly to preparing for the Rhode Island primary in March and will most likely collaborate with other Rhode Island campuses in support of Obama.

“We have such an important ability to be an influence in this election,” Chaiken said.

Herald Web Developer Sean Monahan ’11 said he considers himself a Democrat, but he registered Republican in order to vote for Ron Paul. “Ron Paul has great online recruiting and good word-of-mouth campaigning,” Monahan said. He added he believes Paul’s non-traditional Republican campaign appeals to youth supporters because of its emphasis on online sources, such as YouTube.

Craig Auster ’08 is one of the leaders of the Students for Hillary organization on campus. Students for Hillary held its first meeting last night in preparation for Super Tuesday and will be canvassing in southeastern Massachusetts this Saturday. Though the group has fewer activities planned, it had several members in New Hampshire over winter break in preparation for the primaries season. The organization hopes to “get as many Brown students involved in the campaign directly as possible,” Auster said.

Students for Hillary tends to work closely with the local offices to plan where to canvass and to receive phone databases and contacts. The group has connections with the national campaign through Rachel Sobelson ‘07.5, who was the intern coordinator for the Clinton campaign for the state of Nevada over the summer.

Unlike the Obama group, the Clinton students have yet to witness a noticeable increase in participation.

“Throughout last semester … there’s been like a group of people who have been really involved and stayed involved,” Auster said. “I think this campus is not very pro-Hillary, and I think that overall the dynamics haven’t changed so much.”

Auster also noted the difficulties University groups have on campus because of the strict rules set by the Student Activities Office. Student groups are not permitted to advocate a specific candidate or pass out campaign literature on University grounds. Groups may only table-slip and advertise for meetings and events.

Harrison Kreisberg ’10, national communications assistant for the national Students for Barack Obama organization, noted that other campuses are often more lenient in their regulations and can place greater focus on increasing voter awareness of candidates. Kreisberg is involved with outreach to Students for Barack Obama chapters and works with individual chapters to advertise and campaign. He pointed out that most other campuses participate in the same grassroots activities such as canvassing and phone banks as the University chapter but few campuses have daily phone banks or have as great a following as does the Brown chapter.

“It really depends on the flavor of the local chapter,” Kreisberg said.

Kreisberg said that Brown’s chapter is limited in its influence because Rhode Island does not hold early primaries and traditionally leans democratic. He added that Brown’s chapter was influential in placing Obama on the state ballot for the March primary, where candidates must obtain 1,000 signatures to earn a place on the ballot.

Groups will inevitably face difficulties in coming months when the Democratic field is narrowed to one candidate. Once a candidate is finally chosen, the role of the Brown Democrats increases as they work to unite supporters of individual coalitions, said Gabe Kussin ’09, president of the Brown Democrats.

The Brown Republicans could not be reached for comment.

During the primary season, Brown Democrats focus their activities on voter registration, which ends for the Rhode Island primary this Saturday at 12 p.m. All students can register to vote in Rhode Island with proof of their residence hall address, Kussin said.

Kussin expects that participation in the Brown Democrats will increase greatly once a candidate is chosen, although currently its numbers are fairly stagnant. The main task the Democrats will face is uniting supporters of the losing primary candidates and making sure they stay active in the general election, although Kussin recognizes it will have to largely be on an individual basis.

“There are still these core ideals that ring true in all these people,” Kussin said. “My hope is that people will see those core values first and see them within a candidate.”

Due to an editorial error, an article in Wednesday’s Herald (“Student groups stump for their favorite candidates,” Jan. 30) said Gabe Kussin ’09 is the leader of Brown Students for Barack Obama. He is president of the Brown Democrats and is not a member of any campaign group.

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