Out-of-state supporters converge for primary

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Jan. 8, 2008

MANCHESTER, N.H. — As cars crawled by on the choked main drag Monday, Hamden resident Nicole Colomonico waved a bright blue sign emblazoned with “Hillary for President” and cheered at every supportive honk of a horn.

On each corner of the busy intersection, volunteers had stacked the snow banks with plastic signs for Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, and Republican hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. As one minivan drove by, the young men inside opened the sliding door and leaned out to shout, “Oh-ba-ma!”

Thousands of volunteers, campaign staff and members of the media have descended on Manchester in the past week as the candidates geared up for today’s first-in-the-nation primary.

Meg Evans, a Yale sophomore, is one many college students who have converged on the state.

“It’s exciting to be here, and maybe I’ll be able to change a few extra votes, because I think it will come down to a few hundred votes,” she said.

Connecticut residents are used to missing out on the political excitement of staging an early primary or or being a battleground “purple” state. But many are willing to travel out of state to stump for their favorite candidates.

Scott McLean, a professor of political science at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, is using the political scrum as a learning opportunity for his students. The 14 members of McLean’s honors seminar on presidential campaigns have been here since Wednesday working for their favorite candidates.

In September, the students visited New Hampshire for the first time and chose their candidates. This week’s trip is their third visit to the state, where they have taken part in many of the usual campaign volunteer activities: waving signs, going door-to-door to talk to potential voters and making hundreds of telephone calls.

“This part is fun because we get to see all the people driving by and beeping for us,” said Colomonico, a Quinnipiac senior. “It’s energizing.”

Her boyfriend, junior Mark Bouchard, added that the street corner “visibility” efforts “get you pumped before canvassing.” Both said that they like talking to the New Hampshire voters, but Bouchard felt the need to cover his jacket’s Yankees logos with several Clinton stickers.

Quinnipiac sophomore Kailey Maher’s raspy voice on Monday betrayed the toll of five days of near-constant activity. Maher and classmate Julie Hargreaves are working for Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.

“I lost my voice from screaming,” Maher said. “I drove here at 5:30 p.m. and then we went to meet Mitt at 1:30 a.m., but he didn’t show up until 3 a.m., so I was up for basically 24 hours and that was when I lost my voice.”

Maher added that she is supporting Romney for “his conservative values, his strong families (policy, and his) good foreign policy.”

Most of the students have had the chance to shake hands with their candidate, or at least see the candidate speak in person.

Lorella Praeli, the only freshman in the class, said she saw her candidate, Obama, speak for the first time Sunday.

“The minute I sat down my eyes got teary — he wasn’t even there (yet), but it was that I was going to get to see him and hear him talk,” Praeli said. “I’ve never seen anyone move a crowd the way he did.”

The Quinnipiac contingent was in good company, as college students from across the country crowded New Hampshire’s cities and towns in get-out-the-vote efforts for their favorite campaigns. Several members of the Yale student group supporting Obama traveled to help out in the last few days before the primary.

After Obama’s win in the Iowa caucus Thursday, Evans, the Yale sophomore, said she noticed a change in atmosphere among Obama supporters in New Hampshire.

“There’s just much more of a sense of urgency now,” she said. “Coming in (Friday) morning, you just felt it around all of us. This could happen, it’s within our grasp, he might win the general (election) now.”

Evans said that one of the residents she talked to in Pelham, N.H., invited her inside his house and made her hot chocolate while they discussed Obama’s education policy.

Dan Noble, a member of Yale Law School’s Obama support group, said about 15 law students were planning to go to Claremont, Concord and Nashua, N.H.

“I think the effort at this point is just to make sure everyone knows where the polling location is, what the times are, and that they’re definitely committed to getting out and voting for Barack,” Noble said.

McLean said he liked to see the students’ excitement at participating in New Hampshire’s primary, but he worried that the energy could dissipate back home in Connecticut.

“One of the disappointing things about the system we have right now is it’s so exciting and a lot of emphasis is happening in New Hampshire — the stakes are extremely high in New Hampshire,” McClean said. “I think the students get the impression (that) this is the way politics is everywhere, and then they get back to Connecticut and they see there’s really nothing going on.”

McLean also brought groups of students to New Hampshire for the primaries in 2000 and 2004.

Praeli, 19, of New Milford, said the experience of working in New Hampshire has led her to think about returning in 2012, and considering a career in politics.

“It’s different because you’re in the class and you read the textbook, but you see the grassroots movement here,” Praeli said. “You see how hard the campaign works, and why do they do it? Because they believe in a candidate.”

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