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Presidential Hopefuls at Colby-Sawyer

Colby-Sawyer College has always had a connection to politics.  It began with Governor Anthony Colby, one of the founders of the New London Academy, and has continued to present day with the invitation of presidential candidates to campus.

As New London Academy (later Colby Academy) was a private, secondary education institution, most of its students were not of legal voting age and therefore could not vote in political elections during their time at the Academy.  However, they participated in other ways by attending rallies, reporting on political issues, and forming clubs representing their favorite political candidates.

The Great Depression and World War II were sparse in supplies but high in political activism.  The biggest moment came when Eleanor Roosevelt visited campus in October of 1941.  Mrs. Roosevelt shares her experience at the College in her diary stating, “We reached New London at 5:15 and I spoke at Colby Junior College for Girls in the evening.  My audience in the lovely old church was a very responsive and delightful group. We spent the night with Dr. and Mrs. H. Leslie Sawyer, who were very kind hosts.” (

The 1960s were a turbulent time nationally and on the Colby Junior College campus.  The new president, Everett Woodman, was a worldly traveler and wanted the College to have a more international focus.   Candidates received at the College during Woodman’s tenure included Dick Gregory, Nelson Rockefeller, William Evans Jr. and George Romney.  Dick Gregory, in particular, sparked a great deal of derision on campus from current students, parents, alumni and the town of New London.

New Hampshire’s Political Importance
New Hampshire has a law that requires the state to hold the first presidential primary in the country. As such, it is one of the first states in the country that candidates will visit and, despite the small number of delegates that New Hampshire awards, it is a pivotal state in the election process.  Due to the media and campaign money that comes from a win in New Hampshire, a loss can hurt a favorite or it can bolster an underdog.

One example of the latter importance is how fervently active Republican hopeful Mitt Romney was in New Hampshire primary politics for the 2012 Republican nomination. He won the state primaries and went on to become the Republican candidate against the incumbent, President Barack Obama. In New Hampshire he won 46.4%[1] of the popular vote in the presidential election, thus losing the state to Obama. Romney went on to lose the presidential election, as well.


The Hopefuls and Colby-Sawyer: Major Candidates

Because of New Hampshire’s importance in the election process many presidential hopefuls and their supporters have visited Colby-Sawyer College as they are stumping across the state and, even when candidates don’t stop at the College, students have been active in campaigns.

Dwight D. Eisenhower:
Colby Junior College students were very active on campus in support of Eisenhower’s candidacy in 1952. For example, the archives has a photograph of several students posing with a snow sculpture of Eisenhower with a banner across his chest that says, “We Like Ike,”[2] which was Eisenhower’s famously simple yet effective political slogan.

In January, Colby conducted a mock presidential election to see who was favored to win the ’52 election. The Kearsarge Beacon declared that it resulted in a “definite victory for Eisenhower.”[3]

Eisenhower never visited Colby Junior, but an alumna named Lib Tobey Gonnerman posed for a picture with then General Eisenhower, presenting him with a giant broom and a certificate that names him an authorized member of the ‘broom squad,’ and is therefore authorized to “clean up the Washington ‘mess’ on November 4, 1952.”[4]

Eisenhower won the 1952 presidential election and went on to win a second term in ’56.


Nelson Rockefeller
Nelson Rockefeller visited the college on October 19, 1963. Though Rockefeller had not declared his presidential candidacy, his motivations were well-known at the time to be political. The most important thing he said in his speech was to attack republican forerunner Barry Goldwater’s position on the United Nations, World Bank, and Foreign Aid. He declared that were it up to Goldwater, the United States would abandon all global obligations; on the other hand, he believed it imperative to take part in global politics. Rockefeller went on to lose the Republican nomination to Goldwater. However, Rockefeller went on to become the 49th Governor of New York and the 41st Vice President of the United States under President Gerald R. Ford.[5]


Barry Goldwater
In the 1964 presidential elections, Senator Barry Goldwater (R – Arizona) sent his two sons to Colby-Junior College to campaign for him. Their visit was predominantly in order to defend their father against the allegations Rockefeller made against Goldwater in October. Goldwater went on to beat Rockefeller for the Republican nomination. However, he lost the presidential election by a landslide to the incumbent president, Lyndon B. Johnson. He continued to serve as a Republican Senator from Arizona until his retirement in 1987. John McCain (see below) took his seat in the Senate.


Jimmy Carter
President Jimmy Carter sent his son, Chip, to Colby-Sawyer College to help campaign in 1980. At the time, the main issue debated was whether to institute a draft for women. Carter decided to not permit such a draft, though he originally said he would not oppose it. Some viewed Carter as a weak president when he was ineffective at ending the Iran Hostage Crisis. This and other factors resulted in a losing bid for a second term against Ronald Reagan.


Ronald Reagan
Recent Governor of California, Ronald Reagan put in a bid for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1976. He visited Colby-Sawyer College as part of that campaign,[6] but he lost the nomination to the incumbent President Gerald R. Ford. It is interesting to note, however, that Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter, whose loss of popularity in the 1980s helped Reagan to win the presidency. Reagan said he would try to come back and visit Colby-Sawyer during his 1980 campaign and he did on February 18, 1980. He gave a speech in Sawyer Center [7] and went on to become the 40th President of the United States and is remembered as a model of conservatism. An interesting side note is that Reagan gained popularity in the Republican Party by giving a speech endorsing Goldwater’s ’64 campaign.[8]


George H. W. Bush
George H. W. Bush, who had three years earlier resigned as head of the CIA, launched a campaign for the Republican Nomination in 1980. He came to Colby-Sawyer College after sending his son, Neal Bush, to campus. Bush gave a speech in the Sawyer Center in February.[9] However, he lost the Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan, but became Reagan’s Vice President. After Reagan’s two terms, Bush successfully ran for president in the 1988 election to become the 41st President of the United States. He served one term, losing in 1992 to Bill Clinton.


Bob Dole
Bob Dole sent his wife, Elizabeth Dole, to Colby-Sawyer on his behalf. He withdrew from the 1980 race in March and instead endorsed Ronald Reagan for president. Dole served as the Republican Senator from Kansas from 1969 to 1996, and was the Senate Majority Leader for a few years during that period. He received the Republican nomination for president in 1996 but lost to the incumbent, Bill Clinton.


John McCain
John McCain visited CSC in 1999 to speak in Wheeler Hall as part of his unsuccessful 2000 bid for the Republican Nomination. He was received well by the college, but lost his bid to George W. Bush, who went on to become the 43rd President of the United States. McCain has continued to serve as a Republican Senator from Arizona ever since 1987 when Barry Goldwater vacated the position.[10] He ran unsuccessfully as the Republican nominee against then-Senator Barack Obama, who became the 44th President of the United States.


Other Candidates Who Visited Campus

Lamar Alexander

Howard Baker
(Baker sent his daughter, Sissy Baker, to visit on his behalf.)

Pat Buchanan

Jeb Bush (2015)

Philip Crane

Lindsey Graham (2015)

Jon Huntsman

John Kasich (2015)

Buddy Roemer (2012)

George Romney (1968)

Vermin Supreme (2012)

[1] Politico:

[2] Sieburg, Don, “”We Like Ike”,” Haystack, accessed February 12, 2015,

[3] Kearsarge Beacon. 22 February 1952. Student Newspapers, RG 12.7, Cleveland Colby Colgate Archives, Colby-Sawyer College.

[4] CJC Bulletin 13.3, 1953 February. RG 8.6.1. 2/31

[5] “Rockefeller Visit” folder.

[6] guests_reaganRonald_ _001

[7] guests_reaganRonald_ _002

[8] Archives, Student Newspapers 1980_02_29

[9] guests_georgeBush_ _001

[10] guests_mccainJohn_ _005

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