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Harvard Democrats Divided Over Presidential Primary Candidates

Democratic presidential candidate and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren poses with members of the Harvard Democrats in November 2018.
Democratic presidential candidate and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren poses with members of the Harvard Democrats in November 2018. By Amanda Y. Su
By Jania J. Tumey, Crimson Staff Writer

Democrats at Harvard are divided over their early picks for the party’s 2020 primary, which is on track to feature the largest set of Democratic presidential candidates in history.

Harvard Democrats President Hank Sparks ’21 said that members are beginning to form subgroups in support of particular candidates. Sparks said the organization itself is “almost certainly” not going to endorse a primary candidate, consistent with the group’s past precedent.

“We value the contest of ideas that’s happening,” Sparks said.

Matthew J. Keating ’20, Molly M. Martinez ’22, and Selena X. Zhang ’22 traveled to New Hampshire on Saturday to attend an event for New Jersey Senator and presidential hopeful Cory A. Booker. Zhang, who co-directs Harvard College for Booker alongside Martinez, said she is looking forward to garnering enthusiasm for Booker.

“We’re planning on doing an official launch for Harvard College for Cory soon, and we’re hoping it will involve a lot of things like this — going up to New Hampshire, getting face-to-face time with the Senator and really making that connection,” Zhang said.

Martinez said her support for Booker is informed by her experience growing up in a predominately Hispanic, low-income area.

“I’ve seen the inequalities that we face from the local governments, state governments, and federal government on basically the treatment of citizens,” Martinez said. “What really struck me is the way that Cory advocates for all people — whether you have a ton of money, whether you have a little bit of money, no matter your background.”

Michael B. Baick ’22, chair of the Harvard for Pete subgroup, said he did not initially plan to support a candidate in the Democratic primary. Then, the campaign of Pete Buttigieg ’04, mayor of South Bend, Ind., caught his attention.

“What I saw in Pete Buttigieg, though, was a great candidate — someone who brings the oft-described but rarely possessed trait of leadership to the field, someone who I think has an ability to speak beyond polemics,” Baick said.

Baick, who had the opportunity to speak with Buttigieg during the mayor’s Institute of Politics visit on Wednesday, said he thinks the rush of Democrats entering the primary is likely due to the upheaval created by the 2016 presidential election.

“I think that a lot of it is because of the decimation which was 2016, the complete upsetting of the political order,” Baick said. “There’s a complete vacuum in terms of what the new message is going to be, what new policies are going to be, what anything is going to be.”

Noah T. Redlich ’21, another member of the Harvard Democrats, said he also thinks that without a clear front runner, 2020 is shaping up to be a different story.

“The [2016] nomination felt more like a coronation than a true competitive process, and I think Democrats wanted to change that this time around,” Redlich said.

Redlich is supporting Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2020 primary.

“I was a strong supporter of his in 2016. I felt that he had a really strong message,” Redlich said. “He’s consistently been among the least hawkish, most pro-peace Democrats in the Senate.”

JFK Jr. Forum committee member and former CIVICs chair Damian L. Richardson ’20 said he knew he wanted to support California Senator Kamala D. Harris since former United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearings.

“I think she represents a really good foil to the president. She sort of embodies truth, justice, and I think she’s going to be the best person to take the fight to Donald Trump,” Richardson said. “I’m also just really excited to see a woman president, and a woman of color especially.”

Richardson will be interning with Harris’s New Hampshire campaign team this summer. He urged Harvard students to take advantage of the school’s resources and its proximity to the first primary state as the 2020 election approaches.

“There is no time like now to get civically involved, and if you feel strongly about someone, take the hour trip up to New Hampshire during the school year and canvass,” Richardson said.

— Staff writer Jania J. Tumey can be reached at

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