Jumping on Bandwagons

With the General Elections a Month Away, Students Help Out Their Candidates

More than 50 students gathered in Boylston Hall last night for the first Republican Club meeting of the year. The official agenda included standard fare for a campus organization--elections for offices such as "campus action director" and "freshman representative to the executive board."

But the event also featured speeches by two of the hottest items on the area GOP circuit: Frank L. McNamara '69 and state Rep. Leon Lombardi. McNamara is waging a heavily financed campaign against House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. in the 8th Congressional District. Lombardi is running for lieutenant governor.

The candidates treated their audience to standard campaign rhetoric, and they each concluded with a special pitch aimed at getting Harvard students involved in the race. "We need your help," they both concluded.

At the introductory campus Democratic Club meeting last week, members were also being wooed. Recruiters for Michael S. Dukakis, who is trying to recover the Bay State governor ship, as well as representatives of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54 and Rep. Barney Frank '61 all showed up to sell students on their boss's campaign.

These recent recruiting efforts reflect what one political organizer calls "the campus phase" of this fall's campaigns. Two major statewide offices--senator and governor--will be on the ballot on November 2, as are numerous congressional and state legislative seats. With the voters' final verdict now less than a month away, candidates are desperately scouring campuses across the Commonwealth looking for young volunteers.


At Harvard, where political ambition runs rampant, the response to these early pleas has been enthusiastic. Leaflet drops and telephone campaigns are well underway. Democratic Club Vice President David Thottungal '84 says interest in party politics has hit a peak after a year of quiet organizing. Even the Republicans at this traditionally liberal college boast a campaign squad of more than 50 and have volunteers in at least three of the most-heated contests.

This activity has swelled, despite the fact that fewer than one-fifth of all Harvard students are from Massachusetts. James E. Higgins '83, who works on several Republican campaigns, says that the number of out-of-staters "affects not so much the level of participation as the distribution." For example, Higgins explains, many students consider campaigns involving Kennedy and O'Neill races and congregate to those contests, ignoring others.

A key factor that may discourage even greater participation is that candidates often want students to "get out into the wards" to make last-minute pleas for votes. Many Harvard students consider themselves above such menial work, he adds with a smile.

It hasn't been high-level work, but the campaign experience has been rewarding. For example, by following Dukakis to interviews, "I have learned how the media covers campaigns."

But several undergraduates hit the campaign trail with rather fancy titles, working inside the campaign offices. Some say they devote as many as 70 hours a week to their jobs. Student campaign big whigs describe widely ranging duties, including research on issues, organizing student support, and doing advance preparation for candidates' public appearances.

Perhaps the highest-placed Harvard undergraduate is Sam Medalie '83, who works as Kennedy's nuclear freeze coordinator. In that capacity, he has established a statewide "freeze network." Medalie has also set up several rallies across the state, including one at UMass-Amherst last Tuesday, which attracted more than 20,000 people. Daniel Frahm '83, youth coordinator for McNamara, supervises a $4000 budget for rallying student support at the 12 colleges in the district.

Richard A. Bennet '85, who puts in two afternoons a week for Republican gubernatorial nominee John W. Sears '52 says that full-time staffers "treat students as equals." Students, he adds, generally "have lots of input."

Working in a District Attorney's race, "I don't feel like I'm fighting Reaganism as I started out to do." But "since this is a smaller campaign, I have gotten to do a lot more."

Even undergraduates not charged with great responsibility say they have enjoyed their headquarters work Mare O. Litt '84, has helped with advance work for the Dukakis campaign, occasionally driving to the site of a speaking engagement several times beforehand to see which route will be fastest. Says Litt of the rewards for hard work: "When I follow Dukakis to an interview, I see what he says during the talk, what they place that night on the news and what they print the next morning in the paper I have learned a lot about how the media covers campaigns."

The nuclear freeze is "probably the most important issue that faces us now." Senator Kennedy has taken the lead on that question, and I wanted to do "something different I might be useful at."

In general undergraduates have more potential for important slots it the campaign is smaller in size Christina A. Spaulding 84 has worked since the summer for Middle sex County District Attorney candidate L. Scott Harshbarger '64. She concedes, "I don't feel as much like I am fighting Reaganism as I started out to do." But she adds that "since this is a smaller campaign. I have probably gotten to do a lot more than I would have had in a bigger one."

Spaulding has churned out numerous press releases for the campaign and has developed some of the candidate's actual position statements.

But for all Harvard students who get too smug about their work. Higgins tells the story of one campus politico of a decade back. In the second semester of his senior year. Patrick H. Caddell '72 was the chief pollster for George McGovern presidential bid A few weeks after receiving his Harvard diploma. Caddell helped mastermind the liberal senator's victory at the Democratic convention in Miami. --Marc O. Litt '84   --Christina A. Spaulding '84   --Sam Medalie '83