Jason Rae

In the 2008 presidential primary race, there are superdelegates, and then there is Jason Rae, 21, the youngest member of the Democratic Party to be part of the elite group that could help determine the party’s presidential candidate. His quick rise in national politics came after he was elected to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2004 as a 17-year-old. Since then, the Marquette University junior has had breakfast with Chelsea Clinton, taken a call from Madeleine Albright, and discussed party strategy with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Rae discussed what he sees coming in this year’s race, and what his future could hold.

Were you interested in politics as a child?

My earliest memory is back in kindergarten. I was 5 years old at the time. It was election night in 1992, and my parents were dropping me off at the babysitter. I hollered to them, “Don’t forget to vote for Bill Clinton!” They just kind of gave me this funny look. We don’t really know where that came from.

What was your family’s reaction to your keen interest in politics?

They were a little surprised. My family was much more a Green Bay Packer family than a politically active family. Sunday afternoons … they would be watching the Packers, and I would be reading the news and watching CNN.
 
What was your parents’ reaction when you announced you were running for the DNC?

My family’s primary reaction was, “OK, sure, go ahead,” but they thought in the back of their minds that I wouldn’t win. I think most people did not think I’d win.

What was your reaction when you won?

I had to sneak out of the convention early. Then I had to get off to Boys State [an American Legion-sponsored summer program for high school boys focused on government and civic organization]. I wasn’t present for the election results.

What do your friends think about your involvement in politics?

They will often look at me and wonder why I’m doing this … especially when I’m in the middle of classes, studying for midterms.  

Do you have any friends who are Republicans?

A couple of my closer friends are actually Republicans. I don’t think friendships can be defined by political ideology.

What’s been the most exciting part of the superdelegate courtship that’s gone on this campaign season?

Getting an opportunity to speak with our country’s most politically important leaders, like [former Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright, Sen. John Kerry and [former President] Bill Clinton.  

If a Democrat wins the presidency, will you be looking for a job in the administration?

No, not at all. I have another year and a half to go at Marquette. I haven’t even started thinking about what I want to do after graduation. Likely pursue a law degree or a master’s in public administration right away. I would love to work on Capitol Hill, preferably the Senate side. I was able to spend five months as a Senate page. I just really fell in love with the Senate as an institution and I would love to work in an office there.

What were some memorable moments from your time working in the Senate?

I loved the experience. It’s indescribable how much I loved it and how much I learned.   During my time, I had the opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama. I was also present for that 39-hour filibuster on judicial nominations. I was able to stand on the floor of the House during the president’s 2004 State of the Union.

Who are your political heroes?
My main political hero and the person I spent a lot of time in high school doing research on would be John F. Kennedy. Back in third grade we had to pick a historical person to write a biography on. I was just really inspired by his message and his getting involved in politics at an early age himself, and his serving as an inspiration to our country.

What are your pastimes, besides politics?

Watch movies. I have a Netflix account and I use that to the fullest extent that I can. My favorite movie is “Love Actually,” but a close second is “The American President.”  

Everybody’s asking you when you’re running for office, right?

They are indeed. I remember the guidance counselor in kindergarten coming in to talk to us about our careers. I remember writing down “President of the United States.” Some day I would like to run for office.

You’re a resident adviser, right? Do your residents know the power you wield right now?

It’s actually been a really funny experience. A few weeks ago, when the stories started hitting the press about superdelegates, I would have a couple residents run down the hall and say, “Jason, you’re on CNN right now!”  

Do you ever bust them for drinking beer in the dorm?

All of my guys have been good and well-behaved this year.

How do your professors react to your expertise?  

They really enjoy it because it provides a whole new insight. They’re always quick to turn to me if they want an official opinion on something. They always try to ask my opinion of who’s going to win.

What do you think of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)?

He’s a dedicated public servant who’s obviously given a lot to the country. But I think he’s the wrong direction.

Who was the first person you told about your endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)?

I called my friend Chelsea, who’s a student at [George Washington University]. She was a Senate page with me. I promised her that I’d call her when I decided whom I’d support. I called her, I called my parents, and then I called the Obama campaign.

Have you met Sen. Obama yet?

I have met with Sen. Obama. I met with him in December at the DNC meeting. You could just see a drive and enthusiasm in him that I don’t see in very many people.

If you could work for any politician, who would it be?

I would love to work for Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.). I don’t even consider him a politician. I think of him as a public servant. He is somebody who has dedicated himself to the people of Wisconsin.

As legislative vice president at Marquette, what are your responsibilities?

I chair the student senate, so I set the agenda for the senate meetings, appoint committee chairs, recognize people for debate during a meeting — the basic duties of a presiding officer.

Does that feel small compared to other things you’ve done in American politics?

It is a great experience for me to learn how to work with people with different leadership styles. It gives me a really solid style.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?

Finishing high school as class valedictorian.