As Presidential Primaries Heat Up, Students Get Involved

With more than 20 presidential primary campaigns now in full swing, Harvard students and recent graduates have flocked to the 2016 campaign trail this summer, knocking on doors and dialing phones around the country for the candidates of their choice.

For Daniel R. Ki ’15, an organizer for the Hillary Clinton campaign and a former president of the Harvard College Democrats, working on the campaign trail means long hours and meeting with individual voters in the nooks and crannies of various towns in New England.

Ki, who lives in supporter housing in the critical primary state of New Hampshire, said a “typical day” at his job doesn’t exist—from meeting voters in various coffee shops to organizing phone banks and canvassing outings, every day poses the unexpected. One day, he even had to meet voters in the middle of a thunderstorm.

“We want to meet voters wherever they are, and if it happens to be pouring rain outside, then we’ll do that, too,” he said.

Clinton, a former secretary of state and the favorite to win the Democratic Party’s nomination, faces challenges from four other major candidates, prominent among them U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. And recent news reports suggest that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is considering throwing his hat in the ring, too.

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Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner in the Democratic Party's presidential primary, signed copies of her book, Hard

Ross C. Svenson ’15, another Clinton organizer based in Lebanon, N.H., has no office, and instead perches at various coffee shops and cafes to get the day’s work done. The best part of the job, Svenson said, is the chance to interact with local voters.

“The people I’ve met here have incredible stories,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, students have a wider choice in candidates to support. Seventeen major candidates have declared their intent to seek the Grand Old Party’s nomination, from the loud and controversial billionaire Donald J. Trump to Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and brother and son to former presidents.

Like many other volunteers, Cameron K. Khansarinia ’18, a regional chair at Students for Rubio, has also spent the summer in New Hampshire, setting up offices at various colleges and universities throughout the Northeast in support of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. It’s part of an effort to form a network of college students around the country in support of the candidate’s bid for the Republican Party’s nomination.

Khansarinia’s job includes making sure that each state, region, and school has a respective coordinator. “For the time being, it’s a lot of getting the structure in place,” he said.

Kent Haeffner ’18, who is spending the summer training for the upcoming swim season and working on the Bush campaign, also said a lot of his work has involved setting up basic campaign structure.

Khansarinia added that the large number of Republican candidates in the race can make it hard for individual people to choose their allegiances. He originally planned to work for U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, but he changed his mind after hearing Rubio’s campaign announcement speech.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at jalincunningham@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

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