Over 300 Carleton students traveled through bumper-to-bumper (election-related) traffic Tuesday night in order to participate in the Democratic Farm Labor (DFL) caucuses held at the Northfield Middle School. Student participation helped make the caucus the most well- attended in memory, and may have helped Barack Obama defeat Hilary Clinton in Carleton’s precinct with 84 percent of votes.
A much smaller group of about 15 Carlton students participated in the Republican primary at the nearby Northfield High School. Turnout was lower at the Republican primary, but it nonetheless attracted 290 voters. Northfield Republicans favored Mitt Romney with 33 percent of votes while John McCain received 29 percent.
When voting began at the DFL caucus, organizers were soon overwhelmed by the 787 voters who turned-out from the Carleton’s precinct alone. Carleton Political Science Professor Roy Grow took on the role of unofficial caucus organizer, and helped guide voters towards ballots. He said he had never seen caucus participation of this scale in three decades of political activity in Northfield.
“It was bigger by twenty-fold than anything we have ever seen before” he said.
Organizers had to scramble to collect all ballots by 8:00, when by DFL rules, voting must cease. Many out-of-state students unfamiliar with caucuses system remarked on the informality of the ballets, simple shreds of blue paper on which voters wrote the name of their candidate.
Leading up to the election, the strength of the Obama campaign at Carleton likely played a role in the especially lopsided numbers produced by Carleton’s precinct. The Illinois senator was dominant throughout Rice County, but with a slightly less dazzling 73 percent of votes. Carleton has already shown its ability to mobilize overwhelmingly behind a single candidate this season, when its precinct voted in mass for Democrat Kevin Dahl over Republican Roy Cox in special state-senate elections held in early January.
In this election both Democratic candidates had supporters on campus, but the Obama campaign was far more visible than the Clinton campaign. Led by campus organizer Erica Pearson (’10), the Obama campaign has been tabling and knocking on dorm doors since last term. Pearson said she had a good feeling that Northfield and the state of Minnesota in general would endorse her candidate:
“I was confident that Minnesota was going to go strong for Obama- we've had a really good staff here for a long time. Northfield in particular had about five outstanding supporters that worked really hard alongside our field organizers to seek out supporters and turn them out on Tuesday.”
A last-minute visit by actress Scarlett Johansson my have also helped the visibility of the Obama campaign at Carleton. The day before the caucus, students crowded together in Sayles Hill to get a good look at the star of The Prestige and Lost in Translation as she talked about why she was supporting Obama.
The majority of voters left the DFL caucus after casting presidential preference ballots. A small group, including some twelve Carleton students remained to make other party decisions like choosing delegates for the Rice country DFL convention, and nominating resolutions for the DFL’s action agenda.
As frequently occurs at precinct caucuses the election for country convention delegates was uncontested: everyone present was invited to represent the precinct at the county convention on March 15th where the party will move closer to choosing its candidate for the US Senate race next fall. A majority of the Carleton students still present volunteered to participate in the convention.
Carleton sophomore Sam Ritter was unable to make the DFL convention on the 15th, but volunteered to serve as the party as an Assistant Precinct Chair. The two-year position usually has no formal duties, but Ritter expects it will put him in better contact with the party. Ritter has previously been involved in party politics in his home state of Connecticut and says he did not plan on volunteering but is happy that he did:
“I wasn’t planning on volunteering for something. It was kind of spur of the moment. . . . It’s important for me in a lot of things I do here to try and forge a connection between Carleton and the community. And so I think just having an institutional connection, even just a title to put next to my name is very important to me.
At the other party caucus, Will Cole (’10) was the only Carleton student chosen as a delegate for the Republican country convention.
The last item on the DFL caucus agenda was resolutions, goal statements that can go on to become part of the party platform if they pass through county and state conventions. Robert Stephens (’10) introduced a resolution about energy and public transportation while Becky Canary-King (’10) presented one on affordable housing. Like most other resolutions, the students’ resolutions were passed unanimously.