In many ways, this election reminds me of FDR’s 1932 campaign. FDR ran a campaign as a great communicator against the stumpy Herbert Hoover. He campaigned through a tumultuous economic environment, with a failing banking system, high unemployment, and in a relatively hostile global environment. The 1932 election was also transformative. During the 70 years and 17 presidential elections that preceded FDR’s victory in 1932, only two Democratic candidates were ever elected to the Presidency (Grover Cleveland in 1884 & Woodrow Wilson in 1912). FDR’s election ushered in a 32 year realignment during which Democratic nominees dominated and reformed the global landscape. The 2008 election tomorrow promises to prove just as transitional as FDR’s victory nearly eight decades ago.
That’s why the HBS Democrats club knew it was obligated to engage the student body’s political side and afford everyone the opportunity to become involved in politics this election season. After hosting nine canvassing trips to New Hampshire, a five day DNC convention trek to Denver, three Presidential and Vice-Presidential debate watches, two keynote speakers and the largest HBS voter registration drive in more than a decade, we feel the club met its calling.
Most recently, the Democrats Club hosted Corinne Tapia, COO of the Democratic National Convention Finance organization’s effort, and Roger Fisk, Massachusetts State Director with the Obama for America campaign, for a discussion on the business of politics and the current political environment. Before a group of students from MIT Sloan, the Executive Education program, HKS, HLS and HBS students, Ms. Tapia explained how she coordinated a $2.5 MM budget and all logistics for the DNC Finance team’s 1,300 guest suites, 4,500 daily credential passes, 5 sky boxes and 7 events twice a day for more than 8,000 people. She even provided attendees with laudable stories on the way her team managed a complex shuttle bus transportation system imported from Mobile, Alabama and kept track of 150 volunteers and a 10 person staff throughout the week.
As a veteran campaign staffer, Roger Fisk complemented Corinne very well. Roger spent most of past two decades trying to elect Democrats to the White House. After beginning his career as an intern for John Kerry in 1989, he returned to the Kerry Presidential campaign in 2004 and agreed to help run special events for the candidate. More recently, he successfully worked to elect Deval Patrick’s as Governor of Massachusetts before shifting to the Obama campaign two years ago. Since transitioning to Senator Obama’s staff, Roger traveled across 32 States coordinating special events and advance team efforts for the Senator. He entertained the audience by sharing stories from the Obama campaign trail, including a harrowing experience at an impromptu 850 person rally in the middle of Utah late last year. These political veterans have seen it all and shared many interesting experiences with the students who attended the presentation.
The speaker series was just a culmination of many events the HBS Democrats have planned on campus this year. The organization also organized three debate watches covering the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates. Co-hosted by the HBS Republicans, every debate watch enjoyed a festive, competitive vibe as students cheered on their Party. Students forged strong opinions as the Senators voiced their views on the war in Iraq, the economic calamities plaguing the country and touched on healthcare and social security reform. If you listen closely, you might still hear a few participants talking about “Joe the Plumber,” the Ohio plumber John McCain and Barack Obama referenced more than 20 times during the last Presidential debate in New York.
Equally rewarding has been the voter registration drive spearheaded by the HBS Democrats Club this year. The club helped more than 250 students register to vote and file absentee ballots for the forthcoming election. This complemented the weekly bus trips HBS Dems made to Manchester, New Hampshire, and the phone banking efforts we coordinated encouraging people to vote. Combined with efforts from HKS, HLS, and the Undergrads, Harvard Democrats have collectively knocked on more than 12,700 doors and called more than 1,700 voters this election season.
All this will culminate in a massive election party at Tommy Doyles beginning at 8 PM tomorrow night (election night, Nov. 4). Sponsored by the HBS Democrats, HKS Democrats and the HBS Republican Clubs, we are transforming Tommy Doyle’s and OM into the Cambridge election night headquarters. This could be the first election since 1976 in which a Democratic nominee for president may achieve more than 50% of the Democratic vote. If that happens, and Senator Obama wins the Presidency, we could very well witness the beginning of a new era of Democratic politics. If you’re interested in being a part of this living history, we hope you’ll stop by and say hello.