A MONTH ago, the national press had all but written off Eugene McCarthy's bid to wrest the Democratic Presidential nomination from Lyndon Johnson. They said his campaign was not catching on, that he hadn't drawn the large-scale support from anti-war students that he had hoped for.
Then, as the new term began and students recovered from exams and the traumas of January, an army started to form. An army of student foot soldiers--that last weekend numbered some 700 volunteers and the week before about 400--rallied behind the Senator, going door-to-door in the cold and ice that is winter in New Hampshire. And, whether directly or indirectly, the Senator's campaign has picked up. Even his most bitter critics in the Granite State now see a strong McCarthy showing in Tuesday's primary as almost inevitable.
It will never be known just how many votes the canvassers have attracted to the McCarthy cause. But they have helped to instill in the campaign a general sense of optimism and enthusiasm that was all but non existent a month ago.
They're an odd bunch, these canvassers. Not very politically experienced, generally, and not even sure of exactly where McCarthy stands on many issues, they are all devoutly opposed to the war in Vietnam. And they think that working for McCarthy is their way to oppose the war with action.
Two weeks ago four busloads of kids from Washington paid fifteen dollars apiece to come to New Hampshire. Buses have come from Providence, from Ithaca, from Northampton, and from Cambridge, and cars have come from as far south as Virginia and Maryland. The students who stay overnight sleep in private homes, churches, and college dormitory rooms and lobbies. New Hampshire has been invaded.
Every volunteer--after a January of indecision, disorganization and seeming disaster--has now been effectively put to work. Those whose hair is too long or who refuse to shave their beards or moustaches canvass by phone, handle the mailings, and sort canvass cards--helping with the office work that just a few people were doing several weeks ago.
FOR some, working for McCarthy is a stop-gap measure. "If he loses and then supports Johnson," one Harvard canvasser said "then I'll probably work for the Resistance or the draft union." For others, canvassing has convinced them of the futility of working within the political system. They mention the closed-mindedness, the selfishness, and the apathy of the people they meet.
But for every disillusioned student, there are apparently five to ten who return to college each week more encouraged. They tell their friends that the campaign is picking up, that the people are listening, that McCarthy suddenly has a chance.
The technique employed in New Hampshire is simple. Each canvasser is given a bundle of literature and a stack of names and addresses of all Democrats and Independents in a voting district. At briefing sessions, the canvassers are told to bring the war home, to try to talk about inflation and taxes and domestic failures.
Sometimes it's hard, sometimes it's easy. Many volunteers have been amazed at the hospitality and courtesy of New Hampshire voters. Others have been disgusted and disappointed. "Very few people were home on my route," one said, "and those that were all like Johnson."
Throughout the state, such experiences seemed the exception. Many canvassers have found a fairly wide-pread lack of confidence among New Hampshire voters in President Johnson and a genuine desire to know about all candidates. They feel that a lot of people are being reached and expressing their thoughts who other wise would probably not have gone to the polls.
One Harvard canvasser was working in a predominantly French-speaking section of Concord. For twenty minutes he spoke to one women--in French--and at the end she told him that no political person had ever before listened to her. He was pleased to report that she was planning to vote for McCarthy.
Another, after lavishly praising the remodeling of a voter's apartment, got the voter worked up to such a pitch that he was screaming anti-war epithets down the staircase as the volunteer departed.
FOR some students, Senator McCarthy's positions are not far enough to the left. He does not advocate immediate withdrawal, but rather a de-Americanization of the war a cessation of bombing of the North, an end to offensive military action--in general an attempt to "bring about an atmosphere for negotiations," a course he claims the Administration is not pursuing.
Most canvassers acclimate themselves to McCarthy's views. As one put it, "he's made the challenge, he's what we've got. We have to work for him even if we don't agree with exactly what he says."