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The Youth Vote in 2008: Students Flood New Hampshire on Eve of Primary

StoryJanuary 07, 2008
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Students from across the country have flooded New Hampshire on the eve of the nation’s first primary there. We speak with three Princeton University students who are campaigning for different Democratic candidates and the teacher who brought them there. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the first presidential primary, just one day away, campaigning at a frenzied pace in New Hampshire. Candidates are gearing up for days of meetings, rallies, house gatherings in a last-minute push for the votes for the party nominations.

In the Democratic race, two new polls show Barack Obama with a whopping double-digit lead over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, after earlier ones suggested he had just drawn even. A USA Today/Gallup poll said Obama had opened up a thirteen-point lead over Clinton. The same poll showed John Edwards running a distant third.

On the Republican side, surveys indicate John McCain is leading in New Hampshire. The USA Today/Gallup poll said McCain had a four-point advantage over Mitt Romney, with Mike Huckabee, the Republican winner in Iowa, way back.

New Hampshire has been flooded with campaign volunteers of every stripe, but the story of 2008 is the youth vote. Melissa Harris-Lacewell is a professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton University. She is leading a group of Princeton students in New Hampshire to volunteer with the presidential campaigns of their choice. She joins us now from New Hampshire. We’ll soon turn to the students. Welcome, Professor Harris-Lacewell.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe the scene to us in New Hampshire.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, it’s really amazing, I have to say. It’s the kind of democracy that you wish everybody in the nation got all the time. So, you know, if you drive down the street, there are signs and there are people standing on the corners, you know, holding up signs for their candidate. If you go have coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts, one of the candidates might walk in to shake your hand. At one point, I was walking yesterday afternoon, looked up, and there was an airplane going across the sky with a Ron Paul banner on it. So sort of at every moment, you are steeped in the whole process of the electoral system here, and you just have this sense it’s what people are talking about, what people are thinking about. And there’s a real intensity here in Manchester, New Hampshire.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe some of the rallies, some of the speeches that you’ve gone to.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, so I’ve been to a couple. I was in Nashua at Barack Obama’s really packed speech. And we got there about two hours early and stood in line. I had my five-year-old daughter with me, and she stood in line that whole time. Along with me was lots of other older people who were using canes, young people, infants. And it was an incredibly moving and powerful experience. And also, again, just sort of — it was a cross between, you know, the “I Have a Dream” speech and a high school football pep rally. It was a bizarre, but really kind of exciting mixture.

Yesterday I was at a John Edwards, and it was a much more intimate venue. It was sort of a town hall meeting, both John and Elizabeth Edwards taking questions from the people in the audience. And I’ll say, you know, in that kind of intimate event, it was really nice. You got a chance to see Edwards and his wife interacting. They were telling jokes. They had campaign supporters there with them. And they were answering questions in a very serious way.

We went over to the Dennis Kucinich office a little bit later in the day and saw folks there, talked to them about how they were feeling about being shut out of one of the debates and what that meant for, you know, their possibilities of really getting a groundswell here that would push some of the front-running candidates to address some progressive political issues. So it really is — I mean, seriously, on every single corner, there is this kind of participatory democratic system going on.

AMY GOODMAN: On every single snow-bank-laden corner?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Oh, that’s right. And all of this is happening with like six-foot snow banks all around you. And again, you know, as I’ve been sort of checking in with students about their experience, the group of two dozen students that Princeton University brought up here — and again, there’s students from lots of universities here. In fact, at all of the rallies there’s probably, I’d say, two-thirds of the folks are New Hampshire voters, and the other third are, I don’t know, sort of political tourists who are here to get an opportunity to be part of it. But the students are doing serious physical labor for the democratic system. I mean, they are walking around — the first couple days we were here, it was fifteen degrees, six-foot snow banks. They were canvassing until 8:00 at night, knocking on the doors of some people who have had their doors knocked on three or four times and dealing with the rejection, but also with the excitement. I mean, it’s just — it’s an incredibly, incredibly intense experience.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to some of the students who have come up. Melody Chan is a Princeton University student volunteering for Barack Obama’s campaign in New Hampshire. Regina Lee is a Princeton student volunteering for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

Melody Chan, why Barack Obama? Explain what you’ve been doing in New Hampshire and how you got involved in presidential politics this year.

MELODY CHAN: Oh, well, gosh, I have to say that I’m absolutely not a political person. I don’t have that sort of background. You know, in my undergraduate years, I definitely sort of — I saw activism as something that activists do, and the rest of us sort of go about and do our own business. We study our own things, and so forth. So it was probably just over the last four years that I really felt, I guess, the need for change and just felt how pressing that need was and how each one of us, I guess, needs to be an activist. And that’s how I got involved.

I mean, I absolutely believe so much in Barack Obama’s, I guess, core values and the ideas that he represents and also just the power he has to inspire people. I mean, I was at that same rally in Nashua, and, I mean, it was kind of like a rock concert, you know? Like he was just — he took over the crowd, and there was so much excitement. And it was like — it was really electrifying.

AMY GOODMAN: I thought it was Mike Huckabee that plays the guitar.

MELODY CHAN: Yeah, but, you know, he had this presence that, you know, just filled up the entire high school gym.

AMY GOODMAN: What most appeals to you about him? Are there positions he has taken that you deeply care about?

MELODY CHAN: Yeah. For example, I mean, I would say that my values and my ideas just align so closely with what he has to say, and I particularly like, you know, his approach, I’d say, to foreign policy, which is, you know, one of talking to everyone at the table and not just — you know, it’s a very different approach probably than the one we’ve seen in the last four, eight years.

AMY GOODMAN: Regina Lee, why Hillary Clinton? And how did you get involved in coming to New Hampshire and getting involved in her campaign?

REGINA LEE: Well, to begin with, I’m a senior politics major at Princeton, so it sort of made sense for me to come here. I’ve noticed recently that a lot of my friends don’t necessarily find it that important to actually vote, even those who are politics majors, and it seems sort of counterintuitive. So when this trip came along, we basically had the choice of coming — basically, the bill is being footed by two different organizations through Princeton and helping us get here. And so, it became this amazing opportunity to really talk to, take pictures with, be in the presence of these people who will have the biggest impact on our country over the next four years.

And then, for me, the why Hillary question? Every time I go to a door and knock on it and someone will give me two seconds to actually say something to them, that’s what I say to them. So my — sort of my pitch is that I truly believe in her experience and her strength as a person to bring about those policy issues, be it healthcare, energy, withdrawing from Iraq. And I think — I wish — and what I love to see is when people get into her presence, they feel that same inspiration that you hear talked about Barack Obama, and I believe he has it, too. But I just have become really fired up being at these rallies with her and Bill and Chelsea and just the rest of the supporters.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to play an excerpt from Saturday night’s Democratic presidential debate on ABC, where tensions ran high between the three frontrunners of the Iowa caucus: Senator Barack Obama, Senator Edwards and Senator Hillary Clinton. Richardson was also there. Congressmember Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel were excluded, so we will be talking to a student who is for Dennis Kucinich in a minute. The excerpt begins with John Edwards.

    JOHN EDWARDS: You know, Senator Obama and I have differences. We do. We have a difference about healthcare, which he and I have talked about before. We have a fundamental difference about the way you bring about change. But both of us are powerful voices for change. And I might add, we finished first and second in the Iowa caucus, I think in part as a result of that.

    Now, what I would say is this: Any time you speak out powerfully for change, the forces of status quo attack. That’s exactly what happens. It’s fine to have a disagreement about healthcare. To say that Senator Obama is having a debate with himself from some Associated Press story, I think, is just not — that’s not the kind of discussion we should be having. I think that every time this happens, what will occur every time he speaks out for change, every time I fight for change, the forces of status quo are going to attack every single time. And what we have to remember — and this is the overarching issue here, because what we really need in New Hampshire and in future state primaries is we need an unfiltered debate between the agents of change, about how we bring about that change, because we have differences about that. But the one thing I do not argue with him about is he believes deeply in change, and I believe deeply in change. And anytime you’re fighting for that —- I mean, I didn’t hear these kinds of attacks from Senator Clinton when she was ahead. Now that she’s not, we hear them. And anytime you speak out, anytime you speak out for change, this is what happens.

    CHARLES GIBSON: With apologies -—

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, making change —- making -—

    CHARLES GIBSON: With apologies to Governor Richardson, I think we [inaudible] —

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Wait a minute now, wait a minute. I’m going to respond to this, because obviously making change is not about what you believe. It’s not about a speech you make. It is about working hard. There are 7,000 kids in New Hampshire who have healthcare because I helped to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program. There are 2,700 National Guard and Reserve members who have access to healthcare, because on a bipartisan basis, I pushed legislation through, over the objection of the Pentagon, over the threat of a veto from President Bush.

    I want to make change, but I’ve already made change. I will continue to make change. I’m not just running on a promise of change, I’m running on thirty-five years of change. I’m running on having taken on the drug companies and the health insurance companies, taking on the oil companies.

    So, you know, I think it is clear that what we need is somebody who can deliver change. And we don’t need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered. The best way to know what change I will produce is to look at the changes that I’ve already made.

    JOHN EDWARDS: Can I respond briefly to that?

    CHARLES GIBSON: Let me — I’ll let you respond. Let me — in all fairness to Governor Richardson.

    GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, I’ve been in hostage negotiations that are a lot more civil than this.

AMY GOODMAN: The Democratic presidential debate Saturday night with ABC. We’re joined by a Princeton University student who is working for one of the candidates who was excluded from that debate, Dennis Kucinich. Michael Collins is volunteering for his campaign in New Hampshire. Welcome, Michael. Why Kucinich?

MICHAEL COLLINS: I mean, I think in the Democratic debates, we heard a lot about change, change, change. That was actually the buzzword I guess everyone got in a memo somewhere. But none of those candidates actually can purport to have real change, simply because they’re all supported by a system of, you know, insurance companies. You can’t talk about creating healthcare for everyone when you’re supported by the big corporations that demand that people have insurance that they can’t afford. So I think Hillary is an example of someone who proclaims change, but actually hasn’t — is part of the system that we’re trying to get rid of.

So Kucinich is someone who’s kind of an outsider. He’s often said as being ridiculous or crazy, but he’s pretty mainstream. He wants healthcare for everyone. And I think that’s something that a lot of people can agree with, and it’s something that I certainly believe in. So Kucinich, although he’s seen as an outsider or someone who’s a little bit radical, is a pretty reasonable guy. And he’s an outsider, and I think that helps get in — helps him — gives him a different vantage point that a lot of people simply can’t afford, because they’re being paid off by people, they’re getting a lot of funding from people who are, you know, perverting the democracy that we are trying to participate in up here in New Hampshire.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you think — we just have ten seconds — of in Iowa saying that voters should throw their support to Barack Obama?

MICHAEL COLLINS: I mean, I don’t know exactly what the political mechanization for that decision was. I’m not higher up; I’m just a lowly intern. But I believe that, you know, really people should vote their conscience and vote with courage and do something that they believe in. And I personally am not a big fan of Barack Obama, but if some people think that they should throw their vote that way, I guess they can go ahead and do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Collins, I want to thank you for being with us, volunteering for Dennis Kucinich’s campaign; also Melody Chan and Regina Lee.

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