2004: Presidential Primaries at Dartmouth College

  • Candidate Dennis Kucinich, a U.S. Representative from Ohio, talks with student at the Rockefeller Center during the 2004 primaries.

The 2004 election began the day President Bush took office in 2000. After two months litigation and protest, the Democratic Party watched as they lost control of their final branch of the federal government, and a new crop of politicians saw a wide-open field to run not to continue Clinton’s legacy, but to forge their own.

On May 31 of 2002, less than a year and a half into Bush’s first term, Vermont Governor Howard Dean announced the formation of an exploratory committee. In December of that same year, after the midterm elections, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry announced one of his own. Then, with the new year, Al Gore announced he had no plans to challenge Bush and the dam broke. Names like Lieberman, Edwards, Gephardt, Sharpton, Moseley-Braun, Kucinich, and Graham – the whole field, save one – had all announced by the end of February.

Before Kerry’s announcement, a student writer of the Dartmouth met with him in a house in Manchester, New Hampshire. Instead of running for re-election back in Vermont, Dean was fully on a new path. In a game of free association, he connected Dartmouth to “a beautiful green campus” and Harvard to “Big classes”.

On September 17, 2003, seven months deeper into the campaign, a sea change rocked the Democratic primary as Former NATO Commander and Four Star General Wesley Clark stepped behind a podium in Little Rock, Arkansas and announced his bid for president of the United States. As the War in Iraq waged on, a “Draft Clark” movement had spread across the internet, leading this supporter of Reagan and Gore and complete political outsider to throw his hat into the ring, and from that moment on, the primary shifted. Completely skipping Iowa, he shot up the polls in New Hampshire and began winning the endorsement of senators like Max Baucus and celebrities like Madonna.

Two weeks after Clark’s announcement, on the 29 of that same month, the Dartmouth Young Democrats hosted a first-of-its-kind Interns Debate, featuring members of the classes of ’06, ’05, and ’04 who had previously worked for or currently with different presidential campaigns. All but three Democratic campaigns (Kucinich, Moseley-Braun, and Sharpton) were represented across a long table in Hinman Forum at the Rockefeller Center. Hanging off the front of the table were campaign signs. Speakers wore different levels of clothing, from polos to full suits and spoke with varying levels of polish. While providing information about every candidate’s positions they retained their individuality as Dartmouth students, and stuck around after to talk with any students interested in volunteering for any campaigns.

With a new term came new candidates. General Clark first came to Dartmouth on January 9. The candidate hosted a pancake breakfast at Sig Ep, and while it took place at 8:30 on a Friday morning, the crowd was astounding. While the candidate made a day trip into nearby Lebanon, he ended the day back at Dartmouth, at the Top of the Hop.

January 23, John Edwards hosted a well-attended town hall at the Top of the Hop, in which he focused on the “Two Americas” divided by wealth, a phrase famously rejected by then-State Senator Barack Obama at that year’s national convention. He campaigned on his electability, an argument that had some significant resonance: the day before the election, the Dartmouth formally endorsed John Edwards, urging students to “think . . .  of who you want to send to the South and the [Midwest]” to campaign against Bush.

That same day, the Dean campaign filmed a Top Ten segment for Letterman from the inside of Lou’s Diner, located at most one minute south of campus and the center of any visiting family’s heart. The clip was filmed at four, two hours after Lou’s traditionally closes. Students had packed the place, but were asked to leave by CBS for legal purposes, leaving behind an empty diner, and a crowd of students gazing in from the sidewalk. Understanding the fallout of his so-called “Dean Scream”, the former Vermont governor presented “Top Ten Ways, I, Howard Dean, Can Turn Things Around” on national television. At number one was “fewer crazy red-faced rants”.

On the 24, Kerry came to the Cook Auditorium to deliver his stump speech in Hanover. Behind him sat two rows: the first of which was comprised of New Hampshire officials, interest group representatives, and Kerry’s fellow soldiers from Vietnam. The second row was made of Dartmouth Young Democrats, all wearing matching white “John Kerry” t-shirts, behind which hung a 30-foot American flag. To its side stood supporters with “Kerry for President” signs. Facing these three rows, sat community members alongside undergraduates, little kids getting antsy as the speech went on as well as students from all different departments. Kerry himself arrived late to the event, spending time instead talking to the overflow crowd outside.

Lifetime Television, ABC News’ “Good Morning America,” and Dartmouth College held a Democratic Presidential Candidate Forum in Moore Theater on January 25. Moderated by ABC News National Political Correspondent, Claire Shipman, the forum launched Lifetime’s year-long public advocacy “Every Woman Counts” campaign. Democratic presidential hopefuls Howard Dean, Joe Lieberman, and Dennis Kucinich answered questions from the moderator and audience that examined each candidate’s views on key issues affecting women in America.

A lottery was held for Dartmouth students and community members for coveted tickets to the live event, while countless others watched at alternative viewing locations set up around campus. A media center was set up in Alumni Hall to accommodate the press. The evening’s sucess was a credit to the hard work of the Dartmouth team00staff from the Rockefeller Center, the Events Office, Public Affairs, and the Hop–and media partners.

When the polls had closed on January 27, Kerry won New Hampshire with 38% of the vote, winning majorities among men and women, working-aged and retired, Democrats and Independents. In Hanover, however, Dean carried 44% of the vote to an easy victory over Kerry’s 30%.

Ultimately, President George Bush would cruise to victory in an effectively unchallenged re-nomination.

Written by Thomas Paul ’21, Rockefeller Center Student Program Assistant for Communications