The next two weeks will be crucial in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Iowa holds its caucus on Feb. 3 and New Hampshire has its primary on Feb. 1 – the first two votes of the cycle.
Although these events take place hundreds of miles from Penn, political groups on campus are amping up their outreach efforts. Penn for Bernie and Penn for Biden members are traveling to New Hampshire to canvass voters.
Penn for Bernie will send five or six Penn students to New Hampshire after a successful GoFundMe campaign. According to Penn for Bernie President and College sophomore Jack Cahill, the group is teaming up with Drexel for Bernie, Temple for Bernie, and and other organizers in Philadelphia for the trip. Cahill said officials from Bernie's campaign will pay for the group's travel and accommodations in New Hampshire if they can assemble 50 or more volunteers.
Penn for Biden plans to send three or four students to New Hampshire on a bus for Biden supporters from Philadelphia, paid for by the campaign itself.
According to Penn for Bernie co-director and College sophomore Amira Chowdhury, Penn for Bernie is one of the most highly mobilized college student groups in the nation. This month, Penn for Bernie raised over $800 in a GoFundMe effort to send its members to canvas in the upcoming New Hampshire primary in February. After popular left-wing podcast "Chapo Traphouse" co-host Will Menaker retweeted the group's fundraiser, the group reached its goal, $750, within two minutes of Menaker's post.
Chowdhury, who also was a field organizer for the Sanders campaign during the 2016 campaign, acknowledged the importance of the group's travel plans, but underscored the need to campaign at Penn.
“When we are in the middle of campus, hundreds of hundreds of folks are walking down, so we engage with students on what their most important issues are," she said. "Especially students who think they’re not political, we help them realize that they do care about climate change or they do care about the student loan debt that they have.”
The club has collaborated with other local universities and Philly for Bernie and regularly hosts on-campus outreach efforts such as phone banking, community canvassing, and debate watch parties.
“This is something that we’re really inspired to do because we’re so involved and passionate about the movement,” Cahill said. “We really want to get on the ground and actually talk to the voters in those states to see if we can make some sort of difference.”
Like Penn for Bernie, Penn for Biden is focusing its campaign efforts by phone-banking, canvassing, and traveling to New Hampshire to knock on doors before the primary. College junior Ben May is currently taking a leave of absence from college to work full-time in New Hampshire as a field organizer for the Biden campaign.
Many Penn for Biden members have work experience with the Biden Headquarters in Philadelphia. This past fall, Wharton senior and Penn for Biden co-founder Dylan Milligan worked alongside five other Penn students at the Biden headquarters.
“I think a lot of students took advantage of [the Biden Headquarters] because they are familiar with Biden," Milligan said. "They like Biden being our former Vice President and a Penn professor, so they got involved in the campaign.”
According to Penn for Warren Membership Director and third-year chemistry graduate student Borna Saeednia, Penn for Warren does not plan to send members to canvass in New Hampshire.
Although there are campaigns eager to sell their own candidate, Penn's umbrella Democratic group does not plan to endorse a candidate in the primary until April.
Penn Democrats will canvas and phone bank in Pennsylvania's swing areas for both the presidential election and state legislature race. They will also host voter registration activities on campus this spring and next fall.
“There really does appear to be a strong Democratic support on campus – we have almost 200 members who pay dues every semester, so we hope to keep that strong," College sophomore and Penn Dems Political Director Michael Nevett said. "It's going to be a top priority to get every Dems member and most importantly, every Democrat on campus engaged.”
Along with Penn Democrats, Penn Leads The Vote is another on-campus group that plans to galvanize young voters. According to Penn Leads The Vote data, on-campus student voter participation in 2018 increased by 464.5% since the 2014 election, and Penn's voter turnout is increasing faster than the average national student voter turnout.
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