Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Meet Jason the 21 Year Old Superdelegate

too young to be a superdelegate? nah. but jason's age brings up the question, just how do you get to be a super anyway. i'll look into that.
Meet Jason Rae. He's 21, a junior at Marquette University, loves Netflix and college basketball. And along with President Clinton and Governor Rendell, he'll be casting his vote as a superdelegate at the Democratic National Convention this August.

Yes, you read that correctly - he's a 21-year-old superdelegate, the youngest of them all, and his vote will be equal in value to that of some 15,000 average-Joe voters like you and me.

Superdelegates - for those who haven't caught wind of the media maelstrom - are the 795 "unpledged" delegates to the nominating convention who'll make their own independent decisions about whom to support. The remaining 3,253 delegates are "pledged," their votes dictated by the results of each state's primary or caucus.

Because of the nail-biting closeness of this year's Democratic primary race, superdelegates will play a larger role than ever before in determining the nominee. Since unpledged delegates like Jason aren't required to cast their votes until the August convention, and it's mathematically impossible for either candidate to secure the necessary 2,025 delegates through pledged ones alone, superdelegates will likely have the final say.

Pundits and voters have united to decry the injustice of this system, fearing that after the people have spoken, the superdelegates - perhaps clad in superheroes' capes - will swoop in and steal the election. The loudest criers hail from the Obama camp, for the Illinois senator is the probable victim in this scenario. It is he who leads Senator Clinton in pledged delegates, but trails in superdelegates. And it is she who carries the reputation of political operator, adept at conducting backroom trades to seduce the supers.

The notion that 795 elites of the Washington establishment might handpick the Democratic nominee is certainly troublesome. An Obama girl myself, I'm especially disturbed that the power of the Clinton machinery might trump that of the populace's vote.

But after a conversation with Jason Rae and a peak into the secret life of a superdelegate, I came to believe that perhaps my fears are unfounded. Instead of deserving our holier-than-thou, power-to-the-people condemnation, the superdelegates might actually constitute one of the more democratic aspects of our nomination process.

Consider this superdelegate's story: As a politically interested 17-year-old, Jason decided to advance his role in our democracy and run for a spot on Wisconsin's Democratic National Committee. He gathered together a few hundred of his closet friends, hand-painted signs with the slogan, "A RAE of Hope for the Future," and managed to defeat two veteran Dems to become the DNC's youngest member.

Along with Democratic senators, representatives, governors, presidents, and party leaders, DNC members are automatic superdelegates.

"I wanted to ensure that my generation of voters had a voice at the national table," Jason explained.

This Wisconsin native has been spending the last several months lunching and chatting with the likes of President Clinton, Senator Obama, Chelsea Clinton and Senator Kerry about the prospects of the candidates.

"Each individual was able to give me valuable insight on how the campaign was going," he told me.

Instead of political wheeling-and-dealing, Jason engaged in meaningful dialogue with the campaigns, taking advantage of the opportunity to ask questions about the candidates' strengths and weaknesses and glean the information he required to make an informed decision.

"I never once felt as though the campaigns were putting pressure on me to vote for their candidate," he recalled. "They were encouraging me along the way, but never was it in a way that made me feel uncomfortable."

While it may be presumptuous to assume that all interplay between superdelegates and campaigns is this benign, Jason's experience sheds new light on the process. more