Harvard Students Extend a Helping Hand to GOP

Jessica E. Schumer

MATTHEW P. DOWNER ’07 worked as an assistant at the Republican National Convention this summer.

NEW YORK—At least a dozen undergraduates and recent grads added a streak of crimson to the red-state crowd by logging hundreds of hours this summer as volunteers for the Republican National Convention.

Students supporting the Grand Old Party say their experiences scheduling speakers, escorting delegates and even painting signs are a change from their time in Cambridge, at a school many have labeled the “Kremlin on the Charles.” “I was excited to be with people who are so like-minded,” Matthew P. Downer ’07 says, standing in a press box that overlooks the crowded convention floor. “Everywhere you look—with the exception of perhaps the press gallery—people who you talk with are friends and fellow Republicans.”

Starting his job in June, Downer has worked as an assistant in the convention’s Office of External Relations and Program Committee, where he planned logistics for the convention week’s speeches. “Preachers and patriots” are his charge, he says, referring to the guests who filled much of the convention’s schedule. Downer, a fledgling politico from Chattanooga, Tenn., serves on the board of the Harvard Republican Club (HRC).

“I definitely wanted to do an internship that would help reelect President Bush,” he says. “I thought I could make the largest contribution as part of the convention.”

Downer, who has worked on senate and congressional campaigns in Tennessee, plans to travel to Pennsylvania and New Hampshire—two major swing states—in the fall. “We’re going to try to let our resources and the man power we have in Massachusetts work where it counts,” he says.


In the press room below the floor of Madison Square Garden, Prital S. Kadakia ’06 takes a breather between tasks. The New Jersey native says he has been working 19-hour days for the past week.

“We get back [to the hotel], collapse and get started again,” he says.

Kadakia is helping to organize breakfast events held throughout the convention week. He prepares briefing materials for “surrogates,” guest speakers who address delegations at their Manhattan hotels.

“This is probably one of the better jobs you can get this summer,” says Kadakia, an HRC member who, like Downer, will campaign in the Granite State this fall.

Other Harvard volunteers were not as pleased with their convention jobs.

Douglas E. Lieb ’07 says his job checking delegates’ credentials was a disappointment.

“It sounded like something that would be fine,” Lieb says. “I ended up staying with what I was assigned to be doing. It’s not a glamorous job, certainly.”

With New York University and Columbia University summer housing ending in early August, some college-age convention workers were left without a place to stay. Many volunteers, including Lieb and Kadakia, received hotel accommodations for the week of the convention. Lieb stayed at the Hotel Pennsylvania, directly across the street from the Garden. Others, such as Annie M. Lewis ’07, found themselves in glitzier digs—the Waldorf-Astoria.

Lewis, a perennially positive volunteer from Brookline, Mass., says she enjoyed her summer tasks for the convention’s external relations office, even down to the sign painting. She says convention employees hand-painted 30,000 signs to distribute to delegates, hoping to give the Garden a more “grassroots” flavor.

Jennifer Phillips, director of national programs at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, says that she thought there was less of a youth presence at the Garden than at the Democratic National Convention in July. She attributes the difference more to academic calendars than to political affiliations among college students. “College Democrats and Republicans are equally excited about candidates,” she says.

—Jessica E. Schumer and Joseph M. Tartakoff contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff Writer Michael M. Grynbaum can be reached at grynbaum@fas.