Alumni take on political elections this fall
By James Peng, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, September 4, 2012
While the national political spotlight will primarily focus on the race between President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., several College alumni in politics have captured media attention through competitive national races before the upcoming election season.
Current alumni in Congress include Sens. John Hoeven ’79, R-N.D., Kirsten Gillibrand ’88, D-N.Y., and Rob Portman ’78, R-Ohio, as well as Reps. Charles Bass ’74, R-N.H., John Carney ’78, D-Del., and Michael Capuano ’73, D-Mass. Several of these candidates will seek re-election in November, and a few alumni will seek election to Congress for the first time. In the past few months, Portman was cast into the national spotlight as a likely candidate for the Republican vice-presidential nomination. Romney announced the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as his running mate on Aug. 11.
Alumni involved in local and state politics will compete in the election as well, including Sandra Harris ’81, who will face David Pierce in the Democratic primary for the New Hampshire District 5 state senate seat.
NEW YORK SENATE RACE
Wendy Long ’82 will face Gillibrand for the junior Senate seat in November’s general election, marking the first time in New York history that two women will oppose each other in a Senate race.
At this point in the campaign, most polls indicate that Gillibrand, the incumbent, is the frontrunner in the race, according to Director of the Siena College Research Institute Donald Levy. Approximately 56 percent of likely New York state voters said that they would re-elect Gillibrand, while 28 percent of voters said they would “prefer someone else,” according to Siena Research Institute New York poll results released on Aug. 21.
“Right now, Kirstin Gillibrand seems poised to win in a landslide,” Levy said. “It would be shocking for Wendy Long to end up having a competitive race.”
Gillibrand, who was tapped to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton in 2009, will serve in her first term as a senator if she wins the election in November.
While Gillibrand is gradually starting to become more popular among New York residents, she largely remains in the shadow of senior Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., according to Levy. According to the Sienna poll, approximately 50 percent of New York residents would rank the job Gillibrand is doing as “excellent” or “good.”
“Although New Yorkers don’t overwhelmingly think Gilibrand is doing a good or excellent job, compared to their views of other national politicians, she ranks pretty highly,” Levy said.
During her short tenure in office, Gillibrand was instrumental in passing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act and was heavily involved in the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, according to Gillibrand campaign spokesman Glen Caplin.
“[Gillibrand] is going to run an aggressive campaign based upon her strong record of fighting for New York,” he said.
One of Long’s biggest disadvantages in the upcoming election is that she is a relatively unknown contender. Approximately eight out of 10 New York voters, including roughly 78 percent of Republicans, have no opinion whatsoever on Long, according to the Siena Poll.
“It’s difficult to become a well-known personality in the state of New York,” Levy said. “It’s a large state with multiple media markets, and New York City is the most expensive media market in the world.”
Even Gillibrand, who has served the senator of New York the past two years, remains unknown to roughly a quarter of New York voters, according to the Siena poll.
Adam Schwartzman ’13, editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth Review and a resident of New York, said that the race could become competitive in the coming months given the “politically educated and active voter base” in New York.
“There is no doubt that Wendy Long is the underdog in this race, but she is fully cognizant of both the state’s northern conservative base and the growing dissatisfaction with the status quo in New York City’s financial and industrial centers,” Schwartzman said in an email to The Dartmouth.
Long, who has worked as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and as a private litigation attorney, appeals to conservatives because of her experience in both the public and private sectors.
Long’s platform for fiscal conservatism in order to fulfill long-term goals of balancing the budget appeals to a “sizable minority” of the New York population, Levy said.
She has also expressed opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which approximately 35 percent of New York residents also oppose, according to the Siena Poll.
New York resident Mason Cole ’13, president of the College Democrats and a former intern for Gillibrand, said that the stances that Long takes on social issues, including her opposition to women’s abortion rights, can be perceived by some as radical.
Cole said, however, that it is “exciting” and “encouraging” to see two Dartmouth alumnae in the race.
Representatives from Long’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
DELAWARE AND MASSACHUSETTS REPRESENTATIVE RACES
Carney, who was elected as Delaware representative in 2010, will face either Republican Tom Kovach or Rose Izzo for the state’s single House seat.
Carney won the 2010 election by 16 points, 57 percent to 41 percent, to take the seat vacated by Republican Michael Castle, who served as the Delaware representative since 1993.
Because there is very little polling done in Delaware, it is difficult to gauge who is leading in the race, according to University of Delaware political science professor Jason Mycoff.
Carney, however, will have an advantage over the incumbent candidate, as his interactions with voters have helped him build name recognition among residents throughout the state, Mycoff said.
The campaign funding statistics also suggest that Carney, who has received over $1.1 million in campaign contributions, holds a lead in the race. Kovach has received approximately $140,000, and Izzo has received roughly $17,000, according to statistics from OpenSecrets.org.
“Given the fundraising state of the race, that alone would indicate that Carney is pretty likely to win,” Mycoff said.
Capuano will have relatively little competition in his run to represent Massachusetts’s 7th Congressional District, according to Boston College political science professor David Hopkins.
“[Capuano] is a liberal Democrat in a liberal Democratic district,” Hopkins said. “He’s done well, so there’s no reason to put anyone else in there.”
Capuano, who had held a seat in the House since 1999, was uncontested in his run for representative in the 2010 election.
VERMONT SENATE RACE
Republican John MacGovern ’80 will face incumbent Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,for Vermont’s junior U.S. Senate seat after beating Brooke Paige in the Republican primary last Tuesday.
MacGovern, who received over 70 percent of the votes in the primary, beat Paige by roughly 48 points, according to the Vermont Secretary of State website.
If elected, MacGovern’s main goal will be to shrink the national deficit by reducing government spending, since increasing taxes will not be enough to close the budget gap, according to campaign manager Paul Dame.
“If we don’t get a handle on the debt or the deficit, nothing else will matter,” Dame said. “We can’t have a discussion about energy policy or social programs if we don’t have the money.”
Dame said that MacGovern is qualified for the position because of his experience in both the public and private sectors.
MacGovern served as a representative for a “heavily Democratic district” in the Massachusetts Legislature from 1983 to 1991, Dame said. In the private sector, MacGovern worked in China to help U.S. businesses operate in that market.
Because Vermont has been largely Democratic since the 1960s, MacGovern is considered by most political observers as the underdog in the race, according to Middlebury College political science professor Bertram Johnson.
Sanders, who served as Vermont’s U.S. representative from 1991 to 2007 before being elected to the Senate, has the benefit of greater name recognition and has influenced policy that “appeals to a wider section of Vermonters,” he said.
“Most national observers are calling it as a safe win for Sanders,” he said.
Still, Vermont has elected several Republicans to prominent seats in the recent past, including former Gov. Jim Douglas, R-Vt., who served as the state’s executive from 2003 to 2011.
Republicans that appeal most to the Vermont population tend to be socially moderate and fiscally conservative, according to Johnson.
Dame said that although MacGovern will seek to represent Vermont’s “streak of individualism,” his main goal will be to alleviate the country’s economic state.
“If the race will focus on jobs, the economy, the debt and the deficit, John wins that argument,” he said. “If the campaign and the race focus on those issues, John is the clear choice.”
PORTMAN IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Portman, the junior senator of Ohio elected in 2010, was largely considered by the media and political experts as one of the most likely choices for Romney’s vice-presidential pick.
Romney likely chose Ryan to “inject some youth” into the ticket, as Ryan is the first vice-presidential candidate born in the 1970s, according to AEI senior research associate Jennifer Marsico.
“Most people knew that [Portman] is incredibly able, but there was a concern that it was not an exciting enough pick,” she said.
Ryan also appeals more to the Tea Party, and Romney may have aimed to gather support from constituents with more conservative ideologies. Portman, as a more moderate Republican, shares many of the same characteristics and ideologies as Romney.
“The advantage of Ryan over Portman is that he’s going to be someone who is going to be able to excite the conservative base of the Republican Party,” University of Wisconsin political science professor David Canon said.
A few hours after Romney announced his choice, Portman posted a statement on his website that praised Ryan as a vice-presidential pick.
“[Ryan] is an accomplished public servant and a leading voice on the most pressing issues facing our country,” the statement said. “I look forward to working with Paul to ensure that the Romney-Ryan ticket carries Ohio and is victorious in November.”
Since Romney announced his pick, his campaign selected Portman to play the part of Obama for Romney’s debate preparation because of Portman’s experience with debates and close ties to the Romney campaign, The Washington Post reported.
LOCAL STATE SENATE RACE
Dartmouth alumni also continue to be active in New Hampshire politics. Harris, who represented Claremont for three terms in the New Hampshire House, will compete against Rep. David Pierce, D-Grafton, for the Democratic candidacy in the District 5 State Senate race in the Sept. 11 primary. State Sen. Matthew Houde ’91, D-Plainfield, will not seek re-election after serving for two terms as the District 5 senator.
The winner of the primary will compete against either Republican Cynthia Howard or Joe Osgood in the general election in November, according to Harris.
If selected as state senator, Harris said she will write and support legislation that will help create jobs, as maintaining steady employment is a prevalent problem throughout the District 5 area, which is comprised of Hanover, Lebanon, Claremont and several other surrounding areas.
“I really believe that unless you have job, you can’t put food on the table and you can’t support your family, so it’s hard to think about other things,” she said.
Harris also said she will work to protect reproductive rights, relieve cuts to the New Hampshire public university system and ensure that students have the right to vote in New Hampshire.
While serving as a state representative, Harris was on the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee and the Finance Committee. In 2002, Harris was named a Toll Fellow by the Council of State Governments for her leadership abilities, she said.
Harris said that her biggest strength over Pierce is that she has the ability to “reach across the aisle” and make compromises with the opposing party, she said.
“My biggest strength is that I’ve passed a lot of legislation because I was able to get Republicans and Democrats to work together,” she said. “I was trained as a counselor and a mediator and know how to get things done.”
She also said that although she respects Pierce, she has more experience passing successful legislation.
“He’s not a bad guy, but when you weigh his experience and mine, I just come out much stronger,” she said.
Harris also said her family has a close relationship with the College community, as her husband, Joe Harris, served as a physics professor at Dartmouth for 40 years before retiring in 1999.
With an MBA in international business and a law degree, Pierce said that his education makes him more qualified than Harris for the Senate seat. Pierce, who is currently serving in his third term as a representative, also said his legislative experience is “more relevant” than that of Harris.
Howard, a Tea Party candidate, said she represents a starkly different choice from Harris because she is a “strong constitutional conservative.”
“There are a lot of people that run for office that don’t really follow the Constitution,” she said. “They place it in second position rather than primary, and I believe that’s the basis of everything we should do in New Hampshire.”
Although Hanover and Lebanon are typically Democratic strongholds, Claremont currently has more Republicans in the Legislature than Democrats. Osgood, a former Cornish police chief, may also appeal to residents in the southern part of the district, according to Valley News political editor John Gregg.
The New Hampshire Senate currently has a substantial Republican majority, with 18 Republicans out of the 23 senators.