The Truman Scholar Community & Scholar Chris Coons’ Historic 2010 U.S. Senate Win

In November 2010, Truman Scholars
witnessed an historic first for our community when Chris Coons (DE ‘83) won
election to the US Senate. A collaborative and intergenerational effort, the
campaign embodied many of the values for which the Truman family is known:
loyalty, camaraderie, and a commitment to public service.

For this article, Bill Rivers (DE ‘09)
had a conversation with a few of the many Scholars who supported the Coons
campaign: Terry Babcock-Lumish (PA ‘96), Eric Tucker (IA ‘01), and Russ Dallen (MI
‘83)
.  

Though
regarded for his longstanding commitment to public service – as Delaware’s New
Castle County Executive and for his work with the “I Have a Dream” Foundation –
Chris Coons was not a household name across the country in early 2010. 

But for
members of the Truman community, his recent Senate bid was not the first time
they’d heard the name “Chris Coons.” Trumans are long familiar with this 2001
Staats Award recipient, a regular in the annual Truman Scholars Leadership Week
in Missouri, a highly involved member of the Truman Scholars Association, and an
active supporter of the Foundation’s efforts. Consequently, for many of us, the
decision to get involved in Chris’s US Senate race was an easy one, a natural
result of shared commitments and Truman friendships.

Last
autumn, Eric Tucker traveled from Brooklyn to join Brendan Kelly
(MN ’97)
and Terry Babcock-Lumish to help the Coons Campaign in the
state’s southern, historically conservative Sussex County.

“I was
interested in the campaign because I believe in Chris Coons and in his vision
for our nation and the state,” Tucker said. “The decision for me was all about
Chris. Thoughtful and reflective, he has both a global vision for justice and a
commitment to Delaware and his neighbors. That made the decision for me.” 

Together,
Tucker, Kelly, and Babcock-Lumish collaborated with local Democrats and the
DC-based Human Rights Campaign to coordinate the down-state get-out-the-vote
efforts.

Russ
Dallen, a classmate of Senator Coons’ from the Truman Scholars Class of ’83, is
further proof of Trumans answering the call. In 2000, he helped raise money in
New York City for Coons’ very first campaign. At that time, Coons was running
for Delaware’s New Castle County Council, the same body in which Joe Biden
served before his first campaign to
represent the First State in the US Senate in 1972.

“When Chris called me in early 2010
telling me that he would be running for Joe Biden’s Senate seat, I knew the
drill,” Dallen explained. Except this time, Dallen would help Coons fundraise in
major cities across the country, not just New York. Bringing the Coons Campaign
of 2010 full circle with the Biden Campaign of almost 40 years ago, he even
helped organize a fundraiser in Miami with Delaware’s former US Senator, now
Vice President Joe Biden.

“The Tea Party publicity was raising large sums of money for
competing candidate Christine O’Donnell,” Dallen explained. “And the Coons campaign needed all the funds it could get its hands
on. I am pleased that I was able to help.”

It worked. The Coons Campaign raised over $3.8 million dollars,
with roughly 70% coming from individual contributions. But beyond money, the
Miami event and others like it across the country highlight one of the Truman
community’s most instantly recognizable features and an enduring constant of
the Coons Campaign: fidelity to other Trumans.

“We have
this ready-made network of help from politically-minded, driven
leaders—some with time, some with expertise, some with
connections, and others with money,” Dallen went on to say. “Other
Trumans have also successfully tapped into [this] over the years to help
in their campaigns.  I think that it may end up being the most powerful
benefits of the scholarship.”

“Truman
Scholars of all decades, from all over the country, came together for this,” Eric
Tucker said. “They served as a national brain trust, raising money, introducing
Chris to friends and potential supporters all over the country, and just being
supportive. The Truman Scholarship community was a galvanizing force in
bringing all these different supporters together.”

Traveling
from England to support Chris’ Senate bid, Babcock-Lumish affirms that the bond
of fellowship between Scholars runs deep. “Truman Scholars care greatly about
each others’ professional efforts, of course, but it’s also personal.  To spend any time with Chris, his commitment
to serving his community and our society is made abundantly clear – but one
also learns just how much he loves his family, one learns what drives his ideas
and efforts.  He is a role model,” she
said. “What struck me was fielding calls and emails from Truman Scholars who
had never met Chris and who were excited to learn how they might support the
campaign. Chris was my Senior Scholar back in ’96, and I was hearing from
Scholars across the country for whom I served as their Senior Scholar at
TSLW.  This transcended generations of
Truman Scholars, and I trust it will continue to do so.”

One of
the most compelling reasons for such loyalty was the candidate himself.

Recalling
the first time he met Chris Coons at TSLW, Tucker relates, “When he spoke about
his professional experiences, how he balanced his deep commitment to his family
with his desire to have an impact in the world, it was one of the most
meaningful experiences of the week for me. Chris embodied integrity and
compassion. To me, Chris Coons represents the best of what it means to be a
Truman Scholar.”

Even
among Republican circles in Delaware, the Amherst and Yale-educated Chris Coons
is known for his integrity.

Bill
Rivers managed several local and state representative campaigns in Delaware for
the Republicans this cycle. Though not directly involved with the battle for US
Senate, he was a keen observer: “Even if they disagreed with him—sometimes
vigorously so—Republicans in the down-ticket races understood Chris Coons to be
as honest as the day is long.”

Most of
all, the campaign’s underlying theme was a serious commitment to Delaware, a
fealty to home that is yet another hallmark of Truman Scholars. Senator Coons
was raised in Northern Delaware, and throughout the campaign, “consistently spoke
to issues for Delawareans,” Babcock-Lumish explains.

The
commitment to home combined with the significance of the campaign for the
Truman community led to some emotional moments, the most memorable of which was
a rally held in the City of Wilmington, at which Vice President Joe Biden once
again made an appearance, and delivered the opening remarks.

For Eric
Tucker, the event was a historic moment. “It was fantastic for us as members of
the Truman community to see Chris on that stage, standing up for Delaware. The
continuity was impressive too, because Joe Biden made such a contribution
during the time that he served in the seat. Chris at once embodied continuity
of leadership, and was beginning the next chapter.”

“It was a
special moment, simultaneously a homecoming and a send-off, as Delaware’s
voters decided to put their trust in him as their newest US Senator,”
Babcock-Lumish adds, reflecting on the rally.

*          *          *

Whether
campaigning full-time like Tucker, Kelly, and Babcock-Lumish, leading Election
Day voter protection efforts like Bryan Townsend (DE ’03), or simply donning a
“Chris Coons for US Senate” T-shirt and working the crowds at Sussex County’s
world-famous Apple-Scrapple Festival like Abbas Ravjani (TX ’03) and David
Zipper (NC ’99)
, Delaware witnessed an extraordinary effort from the Truman
Community to elect one of their own.

No one is better-suited to speak to that effort
then Senator Coons himself:

“I was deeply moved by all the encouragement
and support I received in my 2010 campaign from Truman scholars young and old,
from those I met many years ago, to those I have just met for the first time. Trumans
contributed to the campaign, both financially and with volunteer time, from
across the East Coast and across the world.  I got Facebook messages,
emails and blog postings, online contributions and volunteer phone bankers,
folks who came out for a weekend and folks who were with me every step along
the way.  It was a great community effort, and I am eternally grateful!”

“The
Truman community is like no other community I know,” Terry Babcock-Lumish
confides. “I count Truman Scholars as trustworthy colleagues and as my closest
friends.”

“Truman
Scholars are family,” Eric Tucker concludes. “We keep each other honest. Senior
scholars like Chris remind me of what’s possible from a life in public service,
and the newer generation of scholars reminds me of my passion for making a difference.”

Now, thanks in no small part to so many Truman Scholars, Chris
Coons can continue to play this role, now in the US Senate.

Bill Rivers (DE ‘09) is currently Executive Director of the A Rose & A Prayer
Education Group (
www.aroseandaprayer.org), a nonpartisan, interfaith, multiracial
social action nonprofit working to lower the abortion rate in the First State. 

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