Way beyond Writing Term Papers: Marquette Student a Political Powerbroker as the Youngest Superdelegate

Article excerpt

The corridors of power in 2008 presidential politics run straight through the dormitories of Marquette University, where junior Jason Rae, 21, has become a real-world political powerbroker: the youngest of the Democratic Party's 795 superdelegates.

It's an exciting time for a young man who was barely of kindergarten age when he first felt the thrill of politics, much to the surprise of his sports-minded, apolitical family. Rae remembers being 5 and urging his dad to vote for Bill Clinton. His fourth-grade book report on John F. Kennedy spawned dreams of a future in Democratic politics. By 15, he was attending party meetings, on his way to leadership roles.

Today Rae's vote will help to clinch the presidential nomination in a race too tight for either candidate to win on pledged delegates alone. The nominee needs 2,025 delegate votes, a sum that's unattainable through the proportionate awarding of pledged delegates in the remaining state contests.

Rae first spoke with the contenders--Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama--at a party meeting in December, where he was "blown away" by the experience. It wasn't long before the significance of superdelegates was heightened, the tables turned, and the candidates' families and friends came calling on him.

Rae, who works as a resident assistant in Marquette's Mashuda Hall, granted audiences to Chelsea Clinton and Michelle Obama. He took phone calls from former President Bill Clinton and his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, on behalf of Hillary Clinton, and from Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who was lobbying for Obama. In February, shortly after the Wisconsin primary, Rae made his choice: Obama.

"I was really trying to find a candidate that was energizing the youth vote," he said. "The whole reason I did what I did was to get young people to get involved and to participate."

Rae accomplished most of "what he did"--meaning his political achievements so far--before he finished high school. A resident of Rice Lake, Wis., a town of 8,000, Rae was a high achiever in his high school of 800 and active in his Methodist church. He won an appointment to serve as a United States Senate page at age 16, about a year after he started participating in meetings of the Barron County Democratic Party. Soon he was running for leadership positions not only in school but also in the county party, and working not only on his own successful campaigns but for party candidates in statewide elections.

'A Rae of Hope'

In 2004, having discovered that the minimum age for party membership is 14, Rae got himself elected vice chair of the Barron County Democrats at the county convention and was made a member of the state platform committee. He knew the state convention would nominate and elect members to represent Wisconsin on the Democratic National Committee. So he made a quick decision.

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"Two days before the filing deadline, I decided to run," he said.

In addition to spots for high-ranking state party officials, the national party's proportional formula gave Wisconsin four spots to fill--two for men and two for women. Rae and his friends hung homemade signs at the convention hall: "A Rae of Hope for the Future." They put flyers on all the chairs and passed out lapel stickers printed on Rae's home computer. He emphasized to state convention delegates that the party needed to reach the next generation of voters.

Of the three candidates for the two men's spots, Rae finished first, ahead of former state legislator Stan Gruszynski, who also won a spot, and the president of the state's firefighters' union, who did not. Rae was then 17.

Following his summer victory, this new Democratic National Committee member--who was consequently locked in as a 2008 superdelegate--went back to finish high school at the top of his class. Now majoring in history and political science, Rae said he enrolled at Jesuit-run Marquette in Milwaukee because it was not too big, not too small and had a nice sense of community. …