If you think of superdelegates as old cronies, horse trading their votes in backroom deals, you haven't met 28-year-old Democratic National Committee member Crystal Strait. The past president of the California Young Democrats was elected last July to represent the Young Democrats of America on the DNC. She's one of two women on the committee under the age of thirty and prefers to be called an "unpledged," rather than a "super" delegate. "I'm not there because of me," she insists. "I'm there only to represent the interests of young Democrats."
She told the Capitol Weekly last week, "Some people look at young voters and think that they can't really talk to them because they're unsure if they will vote for their candidate, but all the research we have done...has shown that two out of three young people will vote Democrat. If a young person votes for a Democrat three times, they're going to be a Democratic voter for life. And as young people grow to be 25 percent of the electorate, we realize we need to get a hold of this group of voters."
This is Strait's first involvement in presidential politics. As a student at the University of California Santa Barbara she worked for the congressional campaign of one of her profs, the late Walter Capps. After graduating and an executive fellowship in the office of California's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Delaine Eastin, she helped California Assemblymember Betty Karnette with her campaign. Since that time she's been an activist for young voters through her leadership positions in the California Young Democrats before being elected to the DNC. She was recently appointed political director of the California Democratic Party.
Strait's interest in politics was triggered by a high school teacher who encouraged his students to become more aware of what's happening in the world and to get involved in public affairs. Her involvement in party politics bloomed during her college years.
As an unpledged delegate Strait sees herself as an advocate for young people. She says they have been historically ignored or underappreciated. "If you don't talk to them, should you really be shocked if they don't turn out at the polls?" she explained. She's been encouraged this year, however, noting that all major candidates have youth advocates on their campaign staffs. She's also heard from many young people who are "very positive and excited" about having a representative of their interests on the DNC.
While exit polls in the primaries to this date show Barack Obama winning the youth vote, Strait is not yet ready to endorse either candidate. "It's a little premature to consider that," she observed. "It's important for me to talk to as many young people as possible before pledging to a candidate."
When asked what factors would influence her decision she said she wants to look at the breakdown of voting results to find out which candidate young people are supporting and why. She sees her constituents as all young people, not just college students. "Too often the campaigns focus only on college campuses. College students shouldn't be the only ones we care about."
Strait will weigh the results of California's primary vote, which went to Clinton, 52% to 43%, but she takes very seriously her responsibility for independence in determining which candidate will have the strongest support from young voters across the nation. "Clinton won the youth vote in California, but I will take into consideration other factors, such as the results of the remaining primaries, as well."
The young superdelegate has been contacted by all three members of the Clinton family and has spoken to Obama surrogates. She considers these contacts to be opportunities for her to promote the issues young people care about, not only opportunities for candidates to lobby her. "When Hillary called we had a conversation about issues. "It wasn't just a pitch for my vote."
Strait has not taken a position on whether to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida, preferring to wait to see how the pledged delegates line up at the conclusion of the other primaries.
"I've never been a rubber-stamp kind of person," Strait explained when asked if she'd go along with the winner of the popular vote or the candidate with the most pledged delegates. She wants to make a decision based on the best interests of the young Democrats she represents. She cites the California Young Democrats slogan to illustrate the importance of her decision: "I am the margin of victory."
This piece was produced as part of OffTheBus's Superdelegate Investigation. Click here to read more superdelegate profiles.