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My Life as a Super Delegate

Jason Rae is a junior at Marquette University. So why is he hanging out with Hillary and Barack, eating breakfast with Chelsea, and taking calls from Bill?

By Jason Rae in Milwaukee


Four years ago, while most of my high school classmates were focused on getting their senior pictures taken and planning their summer vacations, I did something no 17-year-old had ever done before: I ran for a seat on the Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.)—and won.

That puts me in another unique position this year: At 21, I'm probably going to be the youngest delegate to the Democratic National Convention this summer in Denver. And as one of almost 800 "superdelegates," I may wind up helping to decide whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama wins the Democratic nomination to run against the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, in November.

I've always been interested in politics. At 15, I started riding my bike to local Democratic Party meetings and volunteering for local candidates.

Two years later, I ran a statewide campaign to be one of Wisconsin's representatives to the D.N.C. (The rules for getting elected vary by state. In Wisconsin, you have to be a dues-paying member of the Party—which you can be as young as 14—and the election is held at the state party's annual convention.)

No one expected me to win since I was running against a state legislator and the president of a statewide union. But I campaigned hard and won a four-year term.

The D.N.C. is the national governing body of the Democratic Party. Membership is made up of representatives from each state, as well as elected officials. As a D.N.C. member, it's my responsibility to campaign for Democrats at all levels of office. I'm also trying to make sure that the party is doing everything possible to reach out to my generation.

One of the privileges of my position is that all D.N.C. members are superdelegates to the Convention in August. Unlike regular delegates—who are selected by voters in state caucuses or primaries, based on their pledges to support a particular candidate for President—superdelegates can back whichever candidate they like.

In order to win the Democratic nomination, a candidate needs a majority (2,025) of 4,049 delegates, which includes 794 superdelegates. In most years, no one pays much attention to the superdelegates, but because the race between Clinton and Obama is so tight, who the superdelegates support could determine who finally gets the nomination.

Presidential Call

That's put me in an extraordinary position to interact with the candidates and their campaigns on a very personal level. Over the last few months, I've been heavily courted by both campaigns. I've had a chance to talk one-on-one with both Clinton and Obama, had breakfast with Chelsea Clinton, and received calls from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (on behalf of Clinton), 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry (for Obama), and even from former President Bill Clinton himself.

It was a very relaxed conversation (despite the fact that I was shaking a bit); he talked to me as if he'd known me for years. At one point, the call was dropped, and he called right back to continue the conversation. It was one of the highlights of what has been an amazing experience: It's not every day a former President calls to say hello.

Each conversation has been a great learning experience for me—and each of them gave me contact information for how to get back to them if I had questions. Obviously, they're all trying to convince me to support their candidate. But I haven't felt inappropriately pressured to do so.

There's been a lot of talk recently about how superdelegates should decide who to support: whether they should vote for the candidate who won their state or the candidate they personally prefer. I think that superdelegates have to use their own judgment in making that decision.

In most years, being a superdelegate doesn't take a lot of time—just fielding some phone calls and e-mails. But not this year: At one point, I was getting hundreds of e-mails a day encouraging me to support Obama or Clinton.

And because I'm the youngest superdelegate, I've gotten a lot of media attention, and been asked to do dozens of radio and television interviews. At one point, the Party flew me to New York for a live interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN.

It's been a challenge trying to balance my political obligations with keeping up with my courses at school. At times, it's all been a bit overwhelming.

But it's also exhilarating. After all, it's not every day that you get the chance to help choose a presidential nominee.