2000: Campaigns at Dartmouth

  • Vice President Al Gore and former Senator Bill Bradley during the Town Meeting for Democratic candidates.

The 2000 Republican nomination began with a clear frontrunner in then-Governor George W. Bush. Through 1999, he consistently had more than twice the points of his runner-up in polling. As second-place candidate Elizabeth Dole left the race, however, and Bush stumbled in debates, an opportunity opened for the dark horse McCain campaign here in New Hampshire.

On the Democratic side, although Vice President Gore entered the election the clear frontrunner, he did not go unchallenged. Many different candidates, such as Vermont’s Howard Dean and Massachusetts’s John Kerry, tested the waters. In December 1998, Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey formed a presidential exploratory committee and ultimately became the only challenger on the vice president’s path to a nomination.

On October 28th and 29th of 1999, Dartmouth College hosted two back-to-back debates. The first of these two debates was between the two Democratic candidates. A mass of about five hundred people crowded the entrance to the Hopkins Center like a red carpet, waiting for just a glimpse of one of the two candidates, enduring almost-freezing conditions and missing the World Series. Across Wheelock Street, Mo Rocca of the Daily Show was interviewing students on the Green. Students engaged in the political discussion, bringing an inflatable smoky bear, a human-sized cigarette, and voicing their opinions about military spending and Tibetan Independence.

The second debate was between the Republican candidates, save then-Governor George W. Bush, who was attending an award ceremony for his wife. This lent itself well to Sen. John McCain, who was catching up to Bush in the polls and now took the stage as a frontrunner compared to Keyes, Bauer, Forbes, and Hatch. That being said, without Bush, the event had “all the electricity of a Calvin Coolidge nomination show,” according to Jim Kenyon of the Valley News. Still, people came from across the Upper Valley of New Hampshire to attend (as well as seven students who piled into a van and drove from Syracuse).

Bradley first made an appearance in Hanover on April 12th, at an event sponsored by The Dartmouth. Former Senator Bradley talked about bringing young people and independents into the party and into politics, something he said drew him to visiting Dartmouth.

Ten days before the debate fell Homecoming Weekend, and while always a major event for students, alumni, and faculty on campus, the weekend also brought presidential hopefuls. Elizabeth Dole met with students across campus at the porch of the Collis Center, and later met with students at Tri-Delt (now Chi Delt) sorority, of which she was a member at her alma mater of Duke University.  The campaign of John McCain arrived early at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity for a student-oriented speech co-sponsored by Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, after which he watched the homecoming game. McCain also visited on February 1st, this time at Alpha Delta, accompanied by his wife Cindy and their sons and daughters: at the event, the Senator boasted that he had just completed his 114th town hall in the state of New Hampshire, and was ready to “beat Al Gore like a drum.” While this event took place on-campus, it included many non-student supporters from the Hanover community.

After the debate, Bradley made one more trip up to Hanover, on November 8th, redelivering his stump speech off campus. While Gore might have spent fewer time on campus than other candidates, his campaign was the first of the cycle to set up an office in the Upper Valley, located right in Hanover. His wife, Tipper Gore, came to visit the Rockefeller Center on January 20th, as snow piled up outside and study-abroad deadlines quickly approached, the second lady referenced herself being the mother of college students. Unfortunately, to quote a presumably politically-involved writer of the Dartmouth, “With Dartmouth only one stop in a busy day of campaigning before the primary, Gore did not direct significant energy trying to influence voters in the room to choose a particular candidate.”

On the night of the election, while Gore beat Bradley fifty to forty-six, Bradley did improve on the thirty-six percent of the vote he earned in Iowa. Hanover specifically gave Bradley 1,380 votes compared to Gore’s 667.

On the Republican side, Senator McCain successfully upset Bush, winning forty-nine percent of the state to Bush’s thirty. This margin was even more pronounced in Hanover, where McCain walked away with 939 of the 1,424 votes cast, about one percent shy of two-thirds of the vote. After his absence, Bush fared worse in Hanover, winning only 376 votes, or just over a quarter.

Both of these results reflect the results of a poll published by the Rockefeller Center a day before the election.