On the Green,
From afar, it looked like a picture of democracy in action. Students gathered before dusk on the green outside Dartmouth College in a festival of support for their respective Democratic campaigns, as the candidates inside geared up for battle. There were hundreds of them, identified by their team's t-shirt, holding placards and banners high above strained, sweating faces that belted out chants in unison.
But look closer, and all was not as it seemed.
Asked for their opinions, none of those who stood on the front-row for the television cameras wanted to speak. Some said they were staff, or pointed journalists in the direction of campaign spokespersons. Others cagily identified themselves as "the wrong type of volunteer." A few made unconvincing gestures at their ears, suggesting they could not hear above the cacophony.
What was clear was that hundreds of those present in a show of support for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd this evening were young people shipped in from outside the campus and forbidden (although a few let slip on the condition of anonymity) from giving their names or speaking to the press.
An exception was the Joe Biden campaign, where supporters were free to veer from the orchestrated song-sheet. Jim Ryan, state chairman for the Biden campaign, said "If there's one place where talking to the press should be sacred, it's a New England college green. The First Amendment was born here!"
Then there was two older Kucinich supporters who had found each other on the green. "There's not too many of us," Frank Merewether, a Vermonter, said as he looked around. "That's the problem with Dennis," added Claudette Roy-Boyle, a local. Both said they supported Kucinich because of his stand on the war and his health plan.
For the other campaigns, a few local supporters who were unaware of apparent speech restrictions, let their opinions slip out. In the main, they were shunted to the back of the crowds.
"Obama's got some good stuff, but Hillary, she's got the fact that she's a woman," said Shareyan Poudyah, an engineering student in a Hillary t-shirt.
Sylvia Peterson, a 58-year-old New Hampshire native, said for her, Edwards personifies "the American dream."
"He was brought up as I was," she said, adding that he once spoke to her in person and "I believed what he said."
Formerly a Republican, Janis Moriarty said she switched to Obama because "he's very upfront and I believe he can make this country more sane."
Finally, there was 18-year-old Tom Collier, a bona fide Dartmouth student with an eye for compromise. Holding aloft a Obama banner he had cut out and stuck beside a Clinton placard, he said he expected a joint ticket. "I think it's inevitable," he said. "They're the two front-runners."
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