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MANCHESTER, N.H. — Dozens of Harvard undergraduates braved sub-freezing temperatures over the weekend to campaign for Democratic presidential candidates in New Hampshire ahead of the state’s first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday.
Groups of supporters for United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Peter P. M. Buttigieg ’04, and businessman Andrew M. Yang trekked to the Granite State to take part in canvassing and campaign events.
“I really enjoy canvassing,” Harvard College Democrats for Biden co-founder Amelia M. Apgar ’20 said. “I think it’s one of the most important parts of running a campaign because you actually are face-to-face speaking to the people who matter.”
Apgar traveled to volunteer in the Manchester area with three other Harvard students who support Biden.
Diego A. Garcia ’20, who founded Harvard College Democrats for Biden alongside Apgar, said the former vice president’s disappointing performance in the Iowa caucuses last Monday has sparked interest in the Biden group on campus. After technical problems delayed the results from being reported last Monday, Biden finished in a distant fourth place with support from just under 16 percent of caucusgoers. The Associated Press eventually decided it could not declare a winner after significant errors in the results were found.
“I think that our Harvard for Biden membership, in addition to a lot of traditional Harvard College Democrats members, [has] really appealed to other demographics within Harvard — other groups within Harvard who have not necessarily canvassed before,” Garcia said. “And they realize with the disappointing result — the gut punch that we received in Iowa — that it was not the time to be sitting on the sidelines.”
The Biden group’s canvassing efforts focused mostly on voter turnout during the final weekend before the election.
“At this point, I’m not trying to turn a Warren voter over to Biden or anything like that,” said Garcia, who previously canvassed in both Iowa and New Hampshire for Biden.
Some students knocking doors for other Democratic hopefuls took a different tack, however.
Harvard College Democrats for Andrew Yang volunteers Michael Zhu ’22 and J. Alexander White III ’23, who door-knocked for much of the day on Saturday, engaged in sometimes lengthy conversations with voters at the door, asking residents about their priorities and attempting to convince them to support Yang.
Zhu, a Social Studies concentrator who founded Harvard College Democrats for Andrew Yang, said canvassing helps to “put a face” on the Yang campaign.
“If I can even get some people to see both Andrew Yang, but also just a guy wearing a blue hat that says MATH knocking on their door and telling them about health care or about education reform — I think putting a face on the campaign is so much of what canvassing is about,” Zhu said.
The Yang canvassers ran into some New Hampshire residents who were skeptical of the former start-up executive’s ability to pay for his signature proposal — a universal basic income program that would provide American adults with a $1,000-per-month “Freedom Dividend.”
Zhu directed one voter who expressed reservations about the policy toward a New York Times op-ed written by longtime Harvard economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw, who called Yang’s plan “practical.”
“It’s definitely something backed up by plenty of research,” Zhu said.
Despite some voters’ concerns about paying for universal basic income, White said he thinks Yang is electable and could win some voters who supported President Donald J. Trump in 2016.
“You have a guy who in a Democratic primary is actually willing to say that Donald Trump did not create all the evil in the world, and that, you know, some of the problems in the world actually created Donald Trump,” White said.
Roderick P. Emley ’23, who canvassed for Warren in Rochester, N.H., on Saturday, said voters can sometimes get “really honest with you on the doors in kind of an emotional way” while discussing issues that have affected their lives.
“On one level it makes me so angry because when you’re talking to people who have these stories, you realize how much injustice there is and that the deck is so stacked against so many people,” Emley said. “But then you can be optimistic about it too, because it feels like doing work like that can actually make a difference.”
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