Senate Race Heats Up Campus

Coakley Supporters Stand Guard
Sarah F. Choudhury

Volunteers carry signs in Harvard Square to help Mass. Attorney General Martha M. Coakley’s campaign for the Senate seat.

When Senator-elect Scott P. Brown visited the Harvard Republican Club last spring, Rachel L. Wagley ’11 did not know that less than a year later she would be volunteering for Brown’s campaign to attain a seat in the U.S. Senate.

“He was very personable, very funny,” Wagley recalled. “It was before we knew he had a future—I didn’t know that he had nation-wide, or even state-wide, aspirations.”

But Brown took center stage in his recent race for the Senate seat against Democrat and Mass. Attorney General Martha M. Coakley. As the race grew heated, Wagley said that she felt the need to take action and make a difference in the election.

Members of the Harvard Republican Club and the Harvard Democrats have spent the last few weeks making phone calls and volunteering for campaigns in the lead-up to Tuesday’s election, in which Brown defeated Coakley to fill the Senate seat formerly held by liberal Senator Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56.

Both Harvard Democrats President Jason Q. Berkenfeld ’11 and Harvard Republican Club President Mark A. Isaacson ’11 said that January term, which scattered their members throughout the country for a few weeks, hurt the clubs’ ability to foster a stronger volunteer effort on behalf of their respective candidates.

“When we’re on campus, we usually pitch it as a social event,” Berkenfeld said. “I don’t think we had as much of an impact on this race as we would have if we didn’t have the calendar change.”

Despite their distance from Massachusetts, many club members across the country contributed to campaign efforts by calling voters through online phone-banking systems.

“This is the first moment since I came to college that I wish, for a moment, that I were a registered Massachusetts voter,” Wagley said. “I’m getting people excited, but I can’t vote for Scott Brown.”

Harvard students and Mass. residents who were able to get involved in the campaign efforts said that they felt special enthusiasm about making a difference in their home state.

“It was really special for me since people who aren’t from Massachusetts probably have Republicans and Democrats in Congress,” said Marissa A. Babin ’10, who made calls for the Brown campaign and attended local debates and rallies.

On the other side of the lines, Zoe O. Tucker ’13, who lives in Newton, spent the week before Election Day organizing phone-banks and encouraging other local Democrats to volunteer for the Coakley campaign.

“I feel differently about the results because I live in Massachusetts,” Tucker said. “I’ve always assumed it’s the liberal haven of America. [Brown’s win] really freaks me out.”

Tucker said that her experience with the Coakley campaign and her feelings of shock after Coakley’s loss have encouraged her to volunteer for another Democratic campaign over the summer.

“The midterm elections hadn’t really been on my radar,” Tucker said, “But now I’m realizing that every single person, every single representative is so essential.”

Both the Harvard Democrats and the Harvard Republican Club see Brown’s victory as a signal to similarly shift their focus towards the upcoming 2010 elections cycle.

“We’re going to work even harder to get Republicans elected not only in Massachusetts but across the country,” Isaacson said. “This is a warning shot to all Democrats, in all races.”

Depending on the interests of its members, the Harvard Democrats plan to focus on issues such as healthcare, education reform, and climate change, according to Berkenfeld.

“This loss can really be turned into an opportunity. It can really be a wakeup call,” he said. “We’re going to take that energy and take that passion and try to understand how we can have the biggest impact in 2010.”

—Staff writer Stephanie B. Garlock can be reached at