HLS Democrats Hit the Campaign Trail in RI


With the mid-term elections less than one month away, the HLS Democrats have been stepping up their involvement in campaigns. On Saturday, October 14, more than a dozen members of the organization traveled to Rhode Island to join the Yale Law School Democrats in campaigning for Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate challenging Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee.

After leaving campus early in the morning, the Dems spent the day going door-to-door, canvassing voters for Whitehouse. After receiving an inspirational pep talk and thank you speech from Sandra Whitehouse, the candidate’s wife, they were dropped off in different neighborhoods around Warwick.

At each house they spoke with undecided voters about the importance of the election and why they were supporting Whitehouse. They identified which voters would be supporting Whitehouse, as well as those supporting the Democratic candidate for governor.

“All day we canvassed in Warwick, which is Chafee’s hometown, and where he was mayor for eight years,” said 2L James Katz, HLS Democrats’ vice president for campaigns. “We heard from voters, many of whom, I think it is safe to say, would not describe themselves as traditional ‘Democrats,’ that they desperately want to see change in America. I, for one, walked away cautiously optimistic about the Democratic Party’s prospects on November 7.”

The Whitehouse-Chafee race is one of seven senate campaigns where Republicans are in danger of losing seats; Democrats must win six of these races to take control of the senate. According to polls released last week, Whitehouse holds a lead ranging from three to eleven points.

Whitehouse served as attorney general of Rhode Island, and is a former U.S. attorney. Chafee, who is considered political royalty in his home state, was selected to fill his late father’s senate seat in 1999 and was re-elected the following year. Nevertheless, Rhode Island is an overwhelmingly blue state, and President George Bush has low approval numbers in the state. Many observers think the race tilts toward Whitehouse.

“There’s a lot of talk about the momentum and energy the Democratic Party has right now,” HLS Democrats Co-President Dan Geldon said. “The trip offered a good opportunity to see that up close, and more importantly to contribute.”

In addition to helping elect a Democrat in an important race, the trip was also a great opportunity for students to bond with fellow Democrats and get their first experience in electoral politics.

“It was great to talk to people who were undecided and to walk away feeling like I’d made an impression on them,” first-time canvasser Samantha Lipton, 1L, said. “The best interaction I had was with an 18-year-old girl who had just registered and didn’t know anything about the upcoming election, because I got to tell her how important it was that she vote Democrat.”

The HLS delegation knocked on 1,014 doors during the day-a number that surprised and impressed the campaign’s professional staff.

“The energy our members displayed was outstanding, and the Rhode Island Democratic Party was tremendously grateful for the substantial contributions of the Harvard Law School group,” Katz said.

After returning to Cambridge, the group refueled with a celebratory dinner in Harvard Square.

This trip to Rhode Island was just one of the many campaign-related activities the HLS Democrats have done or are planning before the important election on Nov. 7. The organization has been focusing its energies on helping Deval Patrick, HLS ’82, in his campaign for governor of Massachusetts and Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, in a competitive congressional race in eastern Pennsylvania

“The progressive community at Harvard Law School is energized and mobilized to work for change,” Katz said. “We are actively signing up students to work on election-related projects, including a three-day bus trip to Pennsylvania over the weekend preceding Election Day.”

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