Primaries Excite and Divide College Dems

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Super Tuesday has come and gone, leaving the nation wondering who will be the Democratic nominee for President. The Associated Press reported that Senator Clinton has 979 delegates, while Obama leads with 1,112, and is buoyed by wins in Maine, Louisiana, and a host of other states.

Next up are primaries in Wisconsin and Hawaii—both reportedly Obama-friendly states. Pennsylvania’s primaries are held in early April, and for the first time in decades, the state might play an important role in helping to settle the battle between the Democratic forerunners.

As voters around the country remain split over Obama and Clinton, Swarthmore’s College Democrats, too, find themselves in a similar predicament. While those who previously supported candidates like John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich have had to find a new candidate to support, others remain adamant in their support for the two hopefuls.

On the Trail

Anne Kolker ’08 has deeply involved herself in this electoral cycle. As Pennsylvania State Director of Students for Barack Obama, she has spent much of her time organizing college chapters for the benefit of her candidate. “Right now, there is a big push to get students in PA to travel to or make phone calls to the states with primaries coming up this next week. I’ve been trying to rope Swarthmore in on those state-wide types of activities,” Kolker said.

Kolker has also worked to collect signatures in Pennsylvania. In every state, candidates must petition for a spot on the ballot; no one is every automatically placed on the ballot. Hence, Obama must gather the required number to have a shot at Pennsylvania’s delegates.

But in addition to getting signatures for Obama, Kolker is collecting them for herself. She is running as an alternate delegate for Obama in the 7th Congressional district. “I need to gather 250 signatures of registered Democrats in the 7th (which is where Swarthmore is) to get myself on the ballot. So, hopefully, I will be on the ballot when PA votes on April 22nd, and get elected to be a delegate to the nominating convention in Denver this August.”

Molly Weston ’10, president of the College Democrats, was once a John Edwards supporter, but now leans toward Obama. However, instead of working directly on a campaign, she has focused more on increasing voter registration, especially on campus. According to Weston, the official policy of the College Democrats, during primaries, is to support the process but not individual candidates.

She remarked, “Voter registration is an important part of the process, in the primaries or the general election. The College Democrats will work hard over the next year to get out the vote.”

According to Professor of Political Science Richard Valelly, student involvement—like Kolker’s and Weston’s—in the primaries will weigh heavily in deciding the next Democratic nominee, especially if that effort is directed toward states with the closest upcoming primaries. “Student participation in the Pennsylvania primary will matter enormously if Senator Clinton has not suspended her campaign by the time of the Pennsylvania primary.”

“But volunteering in Ohio and Texas for either Obama or Clinton would be unbelievably interesting—maybe not the thrill of a lifetime, but certainly one of the lifetime thrills that…[is] budgeted for each of us,” Valelly said.

Democrats Divided

Like Democrats across the nation, Swarthmore students are divided.

Among the College Democrats, Obama appears to have a slight edge. Weston, College Democrats vice-president John Erwin-Frank ’11, and treasurer Nick Schultz ‘11 all support him strongly.

Erwin-Frank even ventured to New Hampshire to campaign for his chosen candidate. “Obama will unite progressives in America and form a lasting democratic coalition,” he explained. On whether Obama’s race will deter voters, Erwin-Frank remarked, “the racist white vote won’t go to the Democrats anyway”

Schultz was impressed by Obama’s fresh face. “He will bring a new look to Washington. I believe Obama has the best chance to win. Hillary is too divisive,” Schultz said. He’s particularly been won over by Obama’s strong opposition to the Iraq War. “I don’t like Hillary’s stance on Iraq,” he said.

But Hillary Clinton has many advocates. Douglas Gilchrist-Scott ‘09, a former treasurer for the Democrats, expressed his belief that the older Clinton possesses experience that her younger opponent lacks, important in a national election. “I think that her experience garners political clout,” he explained.

Democrats member Isabel Rivera ’10 agrees with Gilchrist-Scott, believing that Clinton’s experience could make a difference in a tight race for the presidency: “Hillary Clinton. Two words—the experience, the know-how. And she has Bill. She’s the answer.”

But these divisions shouldn’t worry democratic voters. Valelly believes voters should feel empowered, as campaigning for a candidate in the Democratic primaries could make an enormous difference. “It’s a big year to make a difference, and it doesn’t come along very often. This is literally the first time in 40 years that the Democratic party nomination is likely to be really and truly up for grabs when the Denver convention opens,” he said.

If you would like to get involved on the campaign trail, you can email College Democrats president Molly Weston at mweston1 or Anne Kolker at akolker1.

Disclosure: This story’s author has attended a limited number of meetings by the College Democrats.


  1. 0
    Molly Weston says:

    I would like to reiterate that, as an organization, we do not endorse or promote one candidate over the other and are committed to offering our members opportunities to support the Democratic candidates of their choice, whoever that may be. Among both our members and our officers, there are vocal, committed supporters of Senator Clinton and of Senator Obama, as well as people who support neither candidate, are indifferent between them, or have not yet made up their minds. We are following the progress of the selection process closely and look forward to the fall campaign. Second, some questions were raised about the reasons individual members chose to support one candidate over another. In the weeks to come, the Daily Gazette has generously offered space for a few of our members to explain in more detail their reasoning for supporting their chosen candidates. It is our hope that representatives of other political parties on campus will do the same. In closing, we ask our members and the campus community at large to let us know how we can better help them learn about and participate in the process of choosing a Democratic presidential candidate. Contact information for all of our officers is listed on our bulletin board next to the stairs in Parrish and we welcome your thoughts, suggestions, and questions.


    Molly Weston ’10
    President, Swarthmore College Young Democrats

  2. 0
    Me says:

    I think one thing that makes this race somewhat unique is that the differences between candidates are so small. Obama and Clinton offer slightly different healthcare plans, and slightly different Iraq strategies, but they prescribe fundamentally the same solutions and are working towards the same goals. While I’d never say there are no substanse-driven differences between the candidates, I think the fact that people are focusing on electability, enthusiasm, and experience is less about the media narrative and more about the sweeping similarities in the candidates’ agenda. I agree that this makes for a frustrating primary season that at times feels like a personality contest or a speak-off, but it’s great to have two candidates who both are speaking out for universal healthcare, etc.

  3. 0
    AQ says:

    Don’t overstate the scope of an article like this. It’s a recap of what Swat students have been doing with campaigns, and then a little bit about the divided Democratic community (which isn’t surprising since similar divisions exist all around the country but it still worth pointing out). A different article that’s designed to go into more detail about why people choose to support Clinton or Obama would be a great read (hint, hint) but I don’t think that’s what this one was designed to be.

  4. 0
    Jeanie says:


    this is precisely what I was thinking.

    as a prospective Swarthmore transfer student, I was hopeful that Swatties would be a bit more intelligent than the nation’s average college student in picking a political candidate–ie, not blindly adhering to the impressions the media has forced down their throats via ten-second clips full of now-cliché Primaries ’08 buzzwords.
    are Swatties in fact going about the process in a more intelligent manner? this article certainly doesn’t indicate that they are.

  5. 0
    Matthew says:

    It is disappointing that the Swarthmoreans interviewed for this article do not offer more insight into why they have chosen to support their respective favorites. Instead of discussing the candidates’ positions on substantive issues or their personal characteristics that matter, even some Swarthmore students seem to be obsessing on the same nonsense as 24 hour news networks. Of course, it could really be (and likely is) that the Daily Gazette has chosen to follow suit and use meaningless quotes rather than try to convey nuanced opinions.

  6. 0
    James says:

    Um… no. See, when a person refuses to even consider a candidate due to race, that’s racism. That’s not a slur, but a truth. Anyone of any race can be racist, but as whites have the vast majority of power in this country, their racism is the most pervasive and destructive. The same is true of all forms of discrimination. Stupid honky.

  7. 0
    JoeMorgan says:

    From article:
    “…’the racist white vote won’t go to the Democrats anyway’…”

    Remember, when the politically correct use the term racist, they simply mean white Gentiles who discriminate.

    It is a racial slur directed only at white Gentiles. Racist = honky, or honky-ish.

    So, the translation of the quote would be: “…’the honky-ish white vote won’t go to the Democrats anyway’…”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *