It’s Primary Time at Dartmouth

News subtitle

The national spotlight turns to New Hampshire after Donald Trump’s lopsided Iowa win.

Students at voter info table in Hanover
Lucia Vitali ’26 gets some information about voting in the New Hampshire primary at a table JJ Dega ’26, center, and Nicolás Macri ’24 set up in downtown Hanover. (Photo by Katie Lenhart)

Now that the Iowa Republican caucus results are in, with Donald Trump taking more than 50% of the vote, the media spotlight has turned to New Hampshire, where the Jan. 23 primary has been the subject of intense interest for more than a year.

The driving themes of the moment include whether there is a path for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after Iowa, where he finished second with 21% of the vote, 30 percentage points behind Trump, and if former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who finished third in Iowa with 19%, can surprise Trump in New Hampshire.

The Iowa caucus already exacted one dropout, with Vivek Ramaswamy ending his campaign, endorsing Trump, and cancelling a planned Jan. 17 appearance at Dartmouth.

For students at Dartmouth, who have been attending candidate visits through the Path to the Presidency series and other politics-related events sponsored by the Rockefeller Center and the Dartmouth Political Union, the focus now is to take in all the information and prepare to vote.

A key element in bringing the Dartmouth community to this point has been the commitment of students and Dartmouth leaders to sharing the information needed to encourage an informed electorate and to promote a lifetime of civic engagement.

Bea Burack ’25, along with her friend Armita Mirkarimi ’25, founded Dartmouth Civics.

“We’re a nonpartisan group, and our goal is to provide students on campus and community members with the information they need to be informed and engaged voters,” Burack says. “And also to be involved more generally in civic life, both here in Hanover and back home, and wherever they go for the rest of their lives.”

In partnership with Dartmouth Votes, a coalition that includes Dartmouth Student Government, the Office of Student Life, and the town of Hanover, they have been running voter education and registration drives, tabling in Collis and Novack since the fall term.

And though a 10-day deadline to register before the primary has passed, the group continues to share voter information on how the primary works,  how to same-day register, and how to vote at the polls. In addition, student government will be providing shuttles, and the Dartmouth Civics members are organizing “walking trains” to the polls at Hanover High School on Tuesday.

Burack grew up in New Hampshire and has seen the excitement of primary politics, but this will be her first time voting in a presidential election.

“For me, the primary was always in the background, but I enjoy seeing the excitement and engagement of students here. That’s one of the reasons I came to Dartmouth. I thought it would be really exciting to be at a college campus where there were different candidates coming through and different speakers with different viewpoints. And there are a lot of students I’ve talked to who feel the same way.”

Isaiah Menning ’24 is the founding president of the Dartmouth chapter of American Conservation Coalition.

“Our mission is to build a conservative environmental movement by focusing on how you can apply market-based approaches to climate change. Things like cutting red tape that’s blocking clean energy projects, re-embracing a conservation spirit among conservatives to protect the public lands and to also develop them for the resources, and tapping American innovation to build out a clean energy future,” Menning says.

Over the primary season, the coalition has partnered with the state chapters of the Young Republicans and the College Republicans to hold forums with Republican candidates to talk about their environmental positions, and Menning and coalition members have spoken up at Path to Presidency events on campus.

Menning, for example, asked North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum about carbon capture and his work in North Dakota.

Doug Burgum speaks with Nicolas Booth
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum talks with Nicholas Booth ’27 after his talk at Rocky on Oct. 12, 2023, as part of the Path to the Presidency series. (Photo by Katie Lenhart)

“He said that was one of the first times that someone on the campaign trail had asked him that question,” Menning says. “It was great to be able to directly have a dialogue with him and to bring these issues to light.”

Menning plans to vote in the Republican primary next week. As president of the coalition, which is made up of conservative but not exclusively Republican members, he declined to say who he planned to vote for, but he did offer this analysis.

“You have President Trump, who’s definitely the frontrunner, who does not acknowledge climate change as real, or that human activity is a factor. But then you have the other two major candidates, and of those two, it is Nikki Haley who has done that,” Menning says. “Nikki Haley has acknowledged that climate change is real on the debate stage.”

On the evening of the Iowa caucus, a delegation from the Dartmouth conservation coalition traveled to Manchester to join other conservation voters among the Young Republicans and College Republicans to meet with Gov. Chris Sununu, who is backing Haley.

Menning added that the conservative conservation movement is not focused on the horserace of the New Hampshire primary, but on making a long-term impact on conservative and Republican positions on conservation and the environment.

“Regardless of where students decide to vote, whether that’s New Hampshire or their home state, I think that their voice is going to matter in this primary, despite the long odds that a non-Trump candidate might have.”

It’s an unusual time for Democratic voters in New Hampshire, given the Democratic National Committee’s effort to push New Hampshire later in the primary calendar and the state party’s decision to defy that ruling.

When Burack and the other members of Dartmouth Votes encounter students who ask if they can vote for President Joe Biden even though he does not appear on the Democratic ballot, they have to defer on the question in the interest of nonpartisanship.

“We definitely do get a lot of questions like, does the New Hampshire primary matter this year? Or where’s my vote going to matter more? Is this still a swing state? So with questions like that, we usually defer to partisan groups on campus, or to the internet to do their own research,” Burack says.

JJ Dega ’26, a member of Young Democrats of America, has been working hard to let Dartmouth students and members of the community know how to write in Biden’s name on the Democratic primary ballot. Two of Biden’s challengers, Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson, spoke at Dartmouth this fall in the Path to the Presidency series.

Dega and Prescott Herzog ’25, executive director of the Dartmouth Democrats, were elected to the slate of eight Biden delegates from the Second Congressional District for the Democratic National Convention this summer. But Dega is number eight on the slate, which means if Phillips or Williamson reach the threshold of 15% of the vote in the primary, Dega will replaced by one of their delegates. Herzog, who is higher in the order, will likely make it to the convention regardless.

“So if Biden doesn’t get all of the delegates, I won’t go, which is why I’m motivated to mobilize students to write in Biden because if not, then it’s a missed opportunity for students’ voices to have a direct impact on the Democratic party,” Dega says.

Although the DNC could refuse to seat New Hampshire’s delegates because of the dispute over the primary calendar, the state delegation is still fighting for seats on the rules and platform committees.

“So these are real ways that we can change the party platform to advocate for things such as student loan forgiveness, bodily autonomy in health care, the environment, housing affordability—all these are student issues,” Dega says.

And Dega, who says a major consideration in coming to Dartmouth was to experience the kind of political engagement he’s seen in New Hampshire, wants to fight to restore the Granite State’s place at the start of the primary calendar.

“I’ve learned from being here that the small-town discussions are critical to identifying and relating to candidates and hearing them in a personal way rather than what we see in the larger states where it’s all about big ad buys. I think personal politics is critical to democracy, quite frankly,” Dega says.

Bill Platt