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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Youthful Representative

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BeforeJason Rae begins his senior year as a history and political science major at Marquette University in the fall, he’ll be heading to Denver for the 45th Democratic National Convention. As the youngest superdelegate in the country, he will be one of 793 individuals who could decide the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.

What role does the Democratic National Committee play in the nomination of a candidate?
The Democratic National Committee is the governing body of the national party. They oversee the party operations, set general policy and plan the national convention. For the most part the DNC, which has 447 people, is predominantly composed of elected individuals from each state. Some are appointed because of a position they hold—for example, representatives from the Democratic Governors Association. Each state is allocated members based on their state’s population. Wisconsin has six members on the DNC: Our state party chair and first vice-chair are automatically DNC members and then we elect two men and two women. I was one of the two men elected in 2004 when I was 17.

What exactly is a delegate?
Delegates are representatives of their states or constituency groups to go to the Democratic National Convention. Four thousand individuals attend the convention to cast their vote for the nominee.

What’s the state primary for then?
It determines how many people will represent that presidential nominee at the convention. So it’s not as if people are electing a candidate; they’re electing delegates to represent that candidate.

How does one become a delegate to the Democratic National Convention?Each state has to submit a plan saying how they’re going to elect people, what the criteria will be for different groups and what the dates will be. I ended up writing Wisconsin’s plan and it was 40-plus pages long and it took seven or eight months to get through … There are pledged delegates and unpledged delegates.

Pledged delegates are chosen in ratio to their candidate’s share of the vote. In Wisconsin, for example, the overall statewide vote was, I think, 60% for Obama and 40% for Clinton. So 60% of Wisconsin’s delegates to the national convention are awarded to Sen. Obama and 40% go to Sen. Clinton. Outside of that are unpledged party leaders and elected officials, which are called unpledged PLEOs, or superdelegates. This includes Democratic governors and members of Congress, distinguished party leaders, like former Democratic presidents and all the members of the Democratic National Committee. We are given the position to the national convention automatically; we don’t have to get elected for it.

We’re unpledged in that we’re given the opportunity to decide for ourselves who to support and don’t even have to make a decision, if we don’t want to, until the national convention. We have another group called unpledged add-on delegates as well, here in Wisconsin, when we select legislative leaders later on in the process. But that won’t happen for another month.

You’ve already endorsed Sen. Obama. Why?
I got involved in politics because I wanted to make sure the next generation of voters had a place at the table. I felt young people were not being represented as well as they should be. When I looked at Wisconsin’s primary results, overwhelmingly young people voted for Sen. Obama. The exit polls I saw showed 73% of 18- to 24-year-olds supported him. I think it was 85% of Marquette’s wards went for Obama. I was elected because I wanted to be a voice for my generation, and to see them supporting one candidate so strongly, it was clear that’s who I should support.

Do you think we’re going to have to wait until the national convention before we have a candidate?
For the sake of the party and for the sake of winning in November, I think it’s important we wrap up the nomination contest as soon as possible. I think we need to spend June, July and August uniting behind one candidate. If we were to fight it out all summer, it’ll be those things that are used in McCain’s campaign ads come September, October and November that will hurt us.

Jason Rae | Photo by Corey Hengen

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