Ready To Campaign, Dems Head South

CHARLESTON, S.C.—His Panthers endangered, his political future in the balance, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., bursts into Manny’s Bar at halftime Sunday night, clearly a man on the prowl.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday in downtown Charleston. Edwards is making his first appearance here in weeks, and the campaign faithful are out in droves.

High-ranking staffers mingle with the volunteers who make up the bulk of the campaign crew. Edwards signs line the walls, and Dean supporters are turned away at the front door.

Cameras in hand, seven campaign volunteers stand along the edge of the crowd. These seven members of the Harvard College Democrats arrived in the heart of Edwards country last Thursday, political shock troops hoping to push their candidate over the top in the last days before the first-in-the-South primary.

The Edwards supporters form part of a larger contingent of 22 College Dems who flew down to campaign for their favorite candidates, while gaining first-hand experience of the political process.

With funding from the Institute of Politics (IOP), the College Dems lotteried 20 plane tickets for Charleston and its average January temperature of 51 degrees.

At Manny’s, the Edwards volunteers get the chance to meet the man they’ve travelled hundreds of miles to help.

“I can officially die now,” laughs Brittani S. Head ’06, president of Harvard Students For Edwards, after mugging with her candidate.

The party continues at Manny’s even after Edwards rolls on to the next stop on his “Real Solutions Express.”

Inside the bar, College Dems President Andrew J. Frank ’05, chats up Ashley Bell, his national counterpart who is president of the College Democrats of America. Bell notes that he has yet to meet a College Democrats chapter president who is not supporting Edwards. Frank, who volunteered for Edwards in South Carolina, smiles; he’s one of the gang.

The relaxed mood of the Harvard volunteers belies their hard work over the past week. The College Dems have been knocking on doors, phoning voters and waving signs. They’ve been shown on CNN, interviewed for the local news and featured on the front page of Charleston’s major daily newspaper.

The experience mixed exhilaration with frustration, fun and games with hard work.

“There’s a frantic energy,” says Eric P. Lesser ’07, a volunteer for the campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass. “Everyone runs around and is so excited and nobody knows quite what to do.”

Spreading the Good Word

Political canvassing is a quiet activity. Far away from the cheering crowds and deep-pocketed donors are hordes of volunteers walking the streets, knocking on doors and fueling the campaign from the ground level. These workers are a disparate bunch, an amalgam of college students, the unemployed and the elderly. It is a collective that can, on a warm January day in Charleston, build bonds between people who would not otherwise meet.

All have made sacrifices to get here. Mumu Xu ’07 shelled out $100 for airfare in addition to the cost of daily meals, all so that she could to give up her intersession break to work for Edwards. Matthew and Nathan Ray, two brothers who worked alongside the Harvard volunteers, drove down here from Ohio—a 10 and a half hour drive. Each brother is taking time off from school. Nathan, 23, is in his last quarter at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio; Matthew, 15, is a high school freshman playing hooky for a few days.