It is Dec. 1 and a blustery 29 degrees outside. In a chartered bus idling outside Boylston Gate, seven undergraduate backers of Republican presidential hopefuls prepare for another Saturday of campaigning in New Hampshire. Dozens of empty seats surround them.
The chair of Harvard Students for Rudy, Rohan V. Prasad '10, and four others are scheduled to meet Rudolph W. Giuliani himself at a small house party near Manchester. But even that incentive is not enough to tear die-hard undergraduate Giuliani fans from looming papers and midterms. As the mostly empty bus drives off, only one other Giuliani supporter is accompanying Prasad.
With the start of the primary season just weeks away, the more than 100 dues-paying members of the Harvard Republican Club (HRC) appear as fractured in their loyalties as conservatives nationwide. On campus, supporters of Giuliani find themselves up against additional obstacles-a largely liberal student body and the many competing demands on student time.
"The people who support him are pretty passionate," Prasad says of Giuliani. But, Prasad admits, "It's very hard to build membership."
Giuliani is the most popular candidate among college-age Republicans, according to a Harvard Institute of Politics poll of 18- to 24-year-old likely voters across the country. Twenty-six percent of Republican respondents favored Giuliani in the fall poll, but 30 percent say they are undecided-mirroring the fluidity of the race nationwide.
At Harvard, the handful of hard-core Giuliani supporters are turning their sights on New Hampshire. Giuliani has consistently polled behind former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney there as the much-anticipated Jan. 8 primary looms.
On Dec. 1, Manchester, N.H., is the Harvard campaigners' destination. The two Giuliani supporters drive with a New Hampshire native who wears an eccentric black wide-brimmed hat.
In the car, the New Hampshire native, who gives his name as Rob, recalls driving to an airstrip nearby to see Giuliani's private jet.
The conversation then turns to the reason they are in New Hampshire. "He's just such a charismatic leader," Rob says to Prasad. "We've got to get him elected."
The party draws about 100 people to a Giuliani supporter's home in a Manchester suburb. Giuliani's hour-long remarks at the event are off the record.
An hour later, at 2 o'clock, Prasad prepares to canvas in New Hampshire's conservative strongholds, still energized from the excitement of shaking hands with Giuliani. The temperature hovers above zero. After about an hour, knocking on about 10 doors, and talking to about six people, Prasad heads back to the bus bound for Harvard.
The Harvard Republican Club chartered that bus for $500 financed though IOP grants, according to Caleb L. Weatherl '10, the HRC president.
Prasad says he only became a full-fledged Giuliani backer in August. Now he has the responsibility to rally student support for his candidate.
"I think its much different being at Harvard," he says, referring to the campus's liberal bent. "It really pushes to you to know much more about your candidates."
Prasad took over the leadership of Harvard Students for Rudy in September, succeeding former Harvard Republican Club President Jeffrey Kwong '09.
Kwong, a thesis-writing advanced-standing junior, has turned his sights onto the broader campaign as the chair of Massachusetts Students for Rudy and the secretary of the California Chinese American Republican Association. He says he now spends up to 15 hours a week identifying potential supporters and pushing them to financially contribute and vote.
Kwong believes that Giuliani can cut through partisan political divides-particularly at Harvard. "He's the best candidate to close the liberal and onservative gap that we have on campus, especially on this campus where people are socially liberal and fiscally conservative," Kwong says over lunch in the Lowell House dining hall.
Kwong, a government concentrator who intends to pursue an academic career, says he has worked on political campaigns since age 12.
"It's so much more than a hobby," Kwong says of his activism. "It's so important to make your voice heard."
© 2008 Harvard Crimson via U-WIRE