Students Take Their First-in-the-Nation Primary Role Seriously

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Candidates Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Yang, John Hickenlooper, and Julián Castro draw crowds.

4 candidates pictured
Since the end of April, Democratic presidential candidates visiting campus have included, clockwise from top left, Julián Castro, Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Yang, and John Hickenlooper. (Photos by, clockwise from top left, Seamore Zhu ’19, Robert Gill, Eli Burakian ’00, and Rob Strong ’04)

Amy O’Rourke was chatting on the sidelines with Caroline Casey ’21 and New Hampshire state Rep. Garrett Muscatel ’20 as her husband, Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke, shook hands and took selfies with students after his raucous campaign event before a capacity crowd at the Top of the Hop on Friday afternoon.

“The level of political engagement here is so impressive. I don’t remember that kind of engagement when I was in school, especially on a Friday afternoon,” she said. The last time she had been to Dartmouth was as a prospective student in the late 1990s. (She opted for Williams College.)

“It’s amazing to be in a place where so many people come through that you get to meet and hear from them and ask questions. In El Paso, no presidential candidate ever shows up,” she said, noting that the crowd at the Hop felt like Beto’s campaign stops in town halls, church basements, and cafes across Texas during his Senate bid last fall.

“That’s what’s so great about New Hampshire, you can connect on a personal level,” said Muscatel, who was elected as a Dartmouth undergraduate to the New Hampshire House from Hanover in the 2018 midterms.

The day before, more than 100 students showed up to hear Andrew Yang speak on the front steps of the Beta Alpha Omega fraternity on Webster Ave. The tech entrepreneur turned 2020 Democratic presidential candidate gave a brief stump speech, then invited people to step up on the porch to share the microphone and ask questions.

In a three-week span, Julián Castro, Housing and Urban Development secretary in the Obama administration, spoke to a statewide convention of college Democrats hosted at Dartmouth; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper held a public policy forum with about 60 students and community members at Tuck School of Business; and next Saturday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) will discuss the economy at a May 19 Tuck event, moderated by Dean Matthew Slaughter.

“The enthusiasm among students is unbelievable,” says Michael Parsons ’20, executive director of the College Democrats, who was recently elected president of the statewide New Hampshire College Democrats. “More than half of our nine candidate events have drawn more than 300 people—Warren, Harris, Beto, Gillibrand, Booker...”

Previously, Democrats Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) were on campus in April; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ’88 (D-N.Y.) visited in February; and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) campaigned for Democrats, including Dartmouth’s Muscatel, during the 2018 midterms.

Kate Orenstein ’22 got a chance to speak to O’Rourke at the Friday campaign event.

“I was a little skeptical coming in, but after his response to my question, I was very impressed. I’d be happy for him to continue to be in the conversation,” says Orenstein, who does not plan to work for any candidate before the primary, but instead wants to hear from and talk directly to as many candidates as she can.

“My sophomore summer will be the summer of 2020, and whoever gets the nomination, I will be fighting hard for. I’m thinking now how I can make plans to go to swing states like Florida and Ohio, where I can canvass and be effective next year. Right now, it’s just too early. I want to hear more.”

Gigi Gunderson ’21, president of the College Democrats, says being at Dartmouth during the New Hampshire presidential primary can’t help but pull students into the political process.

“I think what’s great is, especially with Yang and Beto, they’re pulling from a crowd that is not always super-engaged in politics,” Gunderson says. “It’s fun to see people come to more events, even though you don’t see them at meetings, you don’t see them out volunteering. Seeing people who are being active and making sure that they are informed is always inspiring.”

William Platt can be reached at

Bill Platt