Students Formerly for Clinton Flock to Obama

When Barack Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination in early June, murmurs of dissatisfaction rippled through Hillary Clinton’s bloc of supporters both at Harvard and across the country.

Some political pundits predicted a divide within the Democratic Party, in which Clinton supporters would defect in droves to support Republican nominee John McCain. Initially, this theory seemed to have backing—in a March Gallup poll, 28 percent of Clinton supporters had said they would vote for McCain in a McCain-Obama matchup.

But the predictions haven’t come to pass on Harvard’s campus, even those who took time off to work for the Clinton campaign flocked to support Obama, citing the larger political allegiances and ideological goals that they say this election represents.

And Democrats across the country have followed suit—a average of tracking polls compiled by on Oct. 21 showed Obama’s support among Democrats approaching 90 percent.


Official campus-based support for Clinton’s campaign began in January 2007, when Harvard Students for Hillary began to mobilize for what would become a year-and-a-half long primary battle.

Starting last February and March, the group traveled to New Hampshire to work behind the scenes for two campaign fundraising events in the swing state.

And throughout the following school year, the group maintained its campaign efforts—making phone calls, producing promotional YouTube videos, and writing favorable op-eds for Clinton.

But some students took their campaign commitment off campus, volunteering over the summer and even taking time off to join the campaign for a semester.

Rahul Prabhakar ’09, one of the co-chairs of Harvard Students for Hillary, interned in Clinton’s Senate office in the summers after his freshman and sophomore years, allowing him to observe Clinton as both a senator and a presidential candidate.

Christian L. Garland ’10 joined Harvard Students for Hillary during his freshman year and interned with the Clinton campaign in June 2007.

“Hillary took a provocative stand in 1993, when as first lady, she marched in a gay rights parade. She earned more than her husband until he became president,” said Garland, who is also the secretary of the Harvard College Democrats.

“She was the super-person—the superhero who could do it all.”

By the time his internship had ended, Garland’s regional director asked him to consider taking the fall semester off to continue campaigning. Garland agreed, and spent the fall 2007 semester working as a campus and field organizer for Clinton’s campaign in New Hampshire.


Harvard Republican Club President Colin J. Motley ’10 said that although HRC has met some former Clinton supporters in New Hampshire who switched to McCain, this dynamic has not been reflected at Harvard.

In fact, Jarret A. Zafran ’09, president of the Harvard Dems, said that many of Clinton’s most ardent supporters on campus have joined the Obama campaign in earnest.

“There are a few people who were more active in the primaries, and haven’t been as active, but for every story like that, there are people who were active for Hillary who are even more active for Barack,” Zafran said. “We’re just so desperate for a new direction—either one would be a miracle compared to Senator McCain.”

After McCain named Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, some pundits predicted that some disaffected Clinton supporters would vote Republican in order to see a woman in the White House. But Clinton supporters on campus said they did not see the two female candidates as comparable.

“To mention Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in the same sentence is an insult,” Prabhakar said. “They don’t agree on equal pay, choice, or healthcare. There are no common positions that they share that will help lower-class women in America.”

Siri F.A. Uotila ’10 said that at the beginning of the primary season—after she had been volunteering for the Clinton campaign for about seven months—she started preparing herself mentally to support whichever candidate secured the democratic nomination, explaining that the differences between the democrats paled in comparison to those between democrats and republicans.

Despite his leadership role in Harvard Students for Hillary, Prabhakar said he did not hesitate with his decision to support Obama in the general election.

“Hillary said it best. The campaign is not just about her. This campaign is about the issues,” he said. “Expanding healthcare and ending the war are things that don’t just go away when your candidate doesn’t win.”

—Staff writer Aditi Balakrishna can be reached at —Staff writer Arianna Markel can be reached at


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