On an early foggy Saturday morning, 68 members of Tufts Democrats departed in groups to attend the 2015 Democratic Party State Convention held in Manchester, N.H. Over 4,000 people from the surrounding states and the Democratic Party gathered in the Verizon Wireless Arena to hear from various Democratic Party officers and six Presidential candidates, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
As the first state in the nation to hold a primary, New Hampshire plays an important role in the election season. Held each year by the state party, the state convention serves purposes that vary from voting on issues to electing delegates, according to Tufts Democrats member junior Ben Kaplan.
“The conventions on the state level serve different purposes,” he said. “Sometimes a convention is held to vote on the new platform…Each state does it very differently….It’s a whole big to-do, it’s a major major thing.”
But after observing the convention on Saturday, Kaplan noted that it was more like a rally for the Democratic Party, instead of one for voting.
“[From] what I saw [on Saturday], New Hampshire kind of does it a bit differently,” he said. “It seems to me that the point of this convention was, first and foremost, to rally delegates, activists and political leaders around the Democratic Party, celebrate the victories New Hampshire had in 2014 and look ahead to the municipal race in 2015, as well as generate support for the Democratic Primary in early 2016. So it wasn’t necessarily a convention that decided specific policy points, it was much more of a convention to get folks excited, to be able to hear from all the Democratic candidates in one place.”
According to Kaplan, the participants signed up for the event at the first Tufts Democrats meeting this semester and through their e-list. The majority of the attendees were first-year students who were undecided about their candidate preferences, Kaplan said.
Even though, according to a press release, “no official business [was] conducted” at the convention on Saturday, Tufts participants expressed excitement to hear from the candidates, hoping to learn more about their different approaches and policies. For many of them, the convention was their first attempt at getting politically involved, and at getting ready for the 2016 elections.
“I actually haven’t been politically involved,” first-year Jake Lawicki said. “So it will be interesting to see everyone’s opinions at the [convention] and gain information from everyone’s perspectives.”
First-year student Alara Hanci agreed, anticipating to learn more about other candidates.
“I’ve been involved with Bernie and Hillary so much,” she said. “I know all the names, but I’m not very familiar with [the other candidates] as much as I am with Bernie and Hillary. And I want to get to know Bernie more because I think I will end up supporting him. And if I will, I want to get all the facts right.”
First-year Maria Grant, another Sanders supporter, said the convention was a way for her to learn more about Sanders’ policies.
“I just want to know more about them, and see them in a more comprehensive way than just, like, radical Vermont Bernie supporters, and see it in a more political way,” she said.
Departing in several groups, around 40 students took buses that were sponsored by Clinton’s and former governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley’s campaigns. According to Kaplan, all the tickets were sponsored by different campaigns.
While waiting for the convention to begin, the Tufts participants, including members of Tufts for Hillary, Tufts for Bernie and Tufts for O’Malley, gathered at Manchester’s Veteran’s Park for a short rally by O’Malley.
O’Malley, whose speech followed performances by an a cappella group and a local artist, expressed his appreciation for his supporters on-site, and took two selfies with Tufts students after his remarks.
First-year Deborah Mayo, a dedicated supporter of O’Malley, believes that his experience as the governor of Maryland and his approachability make him stand out among the candidates.
“Martin O’Malley is a genuine person who is skilled at retail politics,” she told the Daily in an email. “He is someone who is willing to answer every question and take the time to shake every hand — [Saturday] at the convention, he waited until he had taken pictures and chatted with everyone who wanted to before he made his way to the convention itself.”
With 3,000 other participants and around 1,000 delegates — including town, city and county party officers, elected delegates at large by the state committee and Democratic nominees for office in 2014 — this year’s convention was the largest in its history, according to the press release.
When Clinton spoke, she received enthusiastic cheers from the crowd; people beat inflatable noisemaker sticks, and she talked about her policies on small businesses, paid leave for parents, gender equality and mental health problems, among other issues. Clinton’s roughly 40-minute speech prompted her supporters to believe in her victory, according to junior Alison Aimers.
“I think Hillary did a great job and really touched on all of the issues that we wanted to hear about,” Aimers said. “Her platform is strong and I’m confident in her ability to win and her ability to lead, especially after hearing her speak today.”
First-year Ben Hewitt, a Sanders supporter, believes that Sanders provided the basis for Clinton’s perspectives.
“I thought it was really good, I enjoyed it,” he said. “It actually made me feel better about Hillary, just to see her endorse more progressive ideas. I think Bernie deserves a lot of the credits for that though, for kind of pushing Hillary to the left and [being] supportive for a lot of the topics she discussed.”
However, at the same time, first-year Noah Meixler believes that her speech revealed the discrepancies between her policies and her funding sources.
“I find it interesting that she spoke against Super PACs and the Citizens United case despite them…predominately making up the money that she receives for her campaign,” he said.
While he drew a smaller crowd, O’Malley remarked on building a country and economy that works for people. In response to a question about college affordability posed by the Daily, O’Malley answered with a specific plan to make a debt-free option for pursuing a college degree within the next five years, including more investment from the national government, lower interest rates by the Congress and a better use of community colleges.
“I think I’m the only candidate in this field that actually made college more affordable during my terms in the office,” he said. “Four years in a row without any increase in college tuition, even in the middle of a recession.”
Commenting on O’Malley’s speech, Mayo said that his credibility makes her optimistic about his race.
“His speech [on Saturday] showed that his knowledge spans a variety of issues,” she said. “For instance, he was the only candidate to reference the Syrian refugee crisis, stating that as a good, compassionate and generous people we have to do better in order to have any credibility as a moral leader in the world. I support Martin O’Malley because he truly does have a record of actions, and not just words.”
With ecstatic cheers from the audience, Sanders started his speech by saying “it certainly sounds like some people are ready for a political revolution.”
Tufts Democrats President James Golden said that he supports Sanders due to the candidate’s ability to engage people with opposite perspectives.
“I love all the candidates,” Golden, a senior said. “But Bernie just really stands out to me as [someone who has been] on the frontline of the most important issue for a very long time. I just really trust his messaging, his availability to make people see the other side of every issue, even with Republicans.”
Overall, Tufts participants were satisfied with the speeches, according to Golden.
“I think it’s great. This is the live blood of the American politics,” he said. “Obviously it was hard to get here, but I’m happy to be here.”
Kaplan said he believes that it was a really rare opportunity to have all the major Democratic presidential candidates speak at the same time.
“I was really happy with what I heard,” he said. “I’d say there are a lot of strong Democrats in the field in this election cycle, and I’m very pleased to hear all of them. All the candidates that we heard from gave very lengthy and policy-specific speeches…Sometimes you go to a convention or political rally, there is a lot of fluff, a lot of verbiage, we really didn’t see that [on Saturday]. We saw candidates speaking very eloquently in a great way about very specific policy questions, which was super cool.”