Marquette U. Student Youngest Superdelegate In Position's History

This story was written by Steve Yanda, The Marquette Tribune
Jason Rae's parents pulled up to the babysitter's house on the first Tuesday in November 1992 and walked their three children to the door.

As Rae's parents headed back to the car, Jason, who was in kindergarten at the time, made a parting shout: "Don't forget to vote for Bill!"

"OK, Jason," his mother, Lori, thought. "Whatever."

A little more than 15 years later, another presidential election lingers in the distance. This time, though, Rae will have significantly more say over who wins the vote -- or at least, who will be one of the final choices.

Rae, a junior in the Marquette University College of Arts & Sciences, is one of approximately 796 superdelegates who will convene in late August at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. There, Rae and his fellow delegates will cast their nominations, either for Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) or Hillary Clinton (N.Y.)

With the way the campaign season is going so far, superdelegates may play a more decisive role in this election than in any other since 1982, when the position was created. Though Obama has a lead in delegates to date (1,275 to 1,220, according to Associated Press predictions) it appears unlikely either he or Clinton will accumulate the necessary 2,025 delegates in the remaining primaries before the convention.

The votes of the superdelegates will serve as the determining factor, should the race enter the convention at a deadlock. At age 21, Rae is charged with delivering one of those votes.

"It's a really daunting experience in one sense, to have the potential to help decide who the nominee is," Rae said. "At the same time, it's a really exciting opportunity to know that I can help shape the direction of the country and where we're going to go for what could be the next century."

Rae has been eager to shape the direction of his surrounding environment since that election morning in 1992. The tyke who implored his parents to vote for Bill Clinton grew into the young boy who would absorb the nightly news while his siblings were watching cartoons.

That boy grew into the teenager who would ride his bike to county Democratic Party meetings and pay dues to the party before he was old enough to vote. Rae's mother said she has no idea where her son's political fascination originated.

The Raes are proper Wisconsin folks, consumed with all things Favre and Packers. Immigration reform? Health care initiatives? Whatever, Jason.

"We kind of laugh that the rest of us are politically ignorant," Lori Rae said.

These days, though, the Raes find themselves tuned in more and more to the major cable news networks. There's Jason being interviewed on MSNBC. There's Jason doing a segment for Fox News.

The phone rings incessantly at the Rae household in Rice Lake, a town of roughly 8,000 in northwestern Wisconsin. Former teachers, classmates and neighbors call to say they've seen Jason, to say they can't believe what the young man has accomplished already.

In a span of three days last week, Rae chatted with Chelsea Clinton over breakfast, flew to New York to do a live segment with Anderson Cooper and Larry King on CNN, spent some time with Michelle Obama and returned to Milwaukee in time for classes Wednesday.

He's received calls from former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Some want him to endorse Clinton. Others want him to endorse Obama. He thanks each for their call and says he'll make his decision when the time is right.

Though the spotlight's glare has significantly brightened since the 2008 campaign season revved up about a year ago, Rae has learned to deal with attention from media conglomerate and political icons since being elected in 2004 as the youngest Democratic National Committee member ever.

Every four years, Democratic Party of Wisconsin members elect four people for seats on the national committee for a four-year term. All members of the committee are automatically given superdelegate positions.

Rae, then 17 years old, ran for the final seat against the president of the state's firefighters' union.

"I didn't think he had a ghost's chance in hell (of winning)," said Joe Wineke, Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman. "He looked about 13, 14 years old."

With the help of some friends, Rae made fliers, created signs and printed stickers. Then he started shaking hands and making phone calls, just as he had seen others do so many times before.

The Democratic Party wasn't doing enough to reach out to young voters, Rae believed. If they would let him, he would represent his generation of the Democratic electorate.

He won the seat.

"I don't know how he does it," Wineke said. "He's just a hardworking, bright kid who's passionate about the Democratic Party."
© 2008 The Marquette Tribune via U-WIRE