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Gay Superdelegate
Breaks the Mold

Gay Superdelegate
Breaks the Mold


Jason Rae, an out 21-year-old junior in college, isn't exactly what people envision when they hear the word "superdelegate." But his vote is worth as much as President Clinton's. Find out what he plans to do with it.

When 21-year-old Jason Rae ran to be one of four members of Wisconsin's Democratic National Committee in 2004, he wasn't thinking glitz, glam, and national notoriety. Taking on two male opponents who were at least twice his age, Rae said, "I ran a grassroots campaign focused on saying that I wanted to represent America's next generation of voters. I painted signs, handed out homemade stickers, and ended up winning the spot."

His successful bid to become a member of the DNC automatically earned him a slot as one of those much-talked-about "superdelegates" to this year's Democratic National Convention. To be exact, Rae is one of 796 superdelegates -- or what some refer to as "unpledged" delegates -- who have the freedom to vote their conscience come August. They have generated much interest ever since it became clear that neither Sen. Hillary Clinton nor Sen. Barack Obama could earn enough "pledged" delegates (allocated by the state votes) to meet the 2,025 threshold necessary to win the nomination.

As a junior at Marquette University in Wisconsin, Rae is now the youngest superdelegate nationwide and has become a political superstar, appearing on CNN with Anderson Cooper, MSNBC with Dan Abrams, Good Morning America, and The Early Show on CBS, to name a few. "I have gotten very comfortable with the camera and even more comfortable with that little earpiece I get all the time," said Rae. "Now I can put it in with my eyes closed."

Journalists are mostly interested in how someone so young ended up in his position. "They have this traditional image that superdelegates are people who have been around this process forever and are out of touch with voters," he said. "I'm able to show them that's not true -- that superdelegates are regular party activists."

But the surprises don't stop there. Rae is also openly gay -- well, mostly. He interned at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund in the summer of 2006 and came out to members of the DNC in February of 2007. But the trajectory of his fame seems to have gotten a little ahead of his process.

"I have not yet come out to my parents," Rae said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. Though the subject hadn't surfaced in previous interviews, "I'm realizing that tonight I may just want to call them and talk to them. I've been waiting for the right moment, and now just might happen to be that right moment," he said rather matter-of-factly, exhibiting a certain self-possession about the discussion that only a true generation "millennial" could. (Rae assured The Advocate that posting this story was "a-OK" and that the information was already available online.)

As for who he'll cast his vote for, he doesn't know and doesn't know when he'll know. "I wish I could tell you -- could be tomorrow, could be three months from now," he said. "I'm really torn between both of the candidates. I really think that they're strong individuals and either one of them would make a fine candidate. For me, it's really a matter of when I completely feel like the choice I'm making is the right choice for the country."

Of course, the perks of waiting ain't too shabby either. So far, he's gotten phone calls from Hillary Clinton, former president Bill Clinton, and Sen. John Kerry and even sat down for a meal with Chelsea Clinton.

"There's all this talk that Chelsea doesn't want to be out there campaigning, that she doesn't like it. The impression I got from her is that she really cares about her mom's campaign and is genuinely interested in supporting a cause that she believes in with her whole heart," Rae said, noting that the normally camera-shy Chelsea is quite engaging in person.

One of the biggest surprises for Rae -- besides the phone calls themselves -- was the fact that President Clinton never made what he called "the hard ask" for support. "It was, 'I hope you'll consider supporting my wife.' But never, 'Can we count on your support?' Which I just assumed he would," recounted Rae. "Ya know, it would be pretty hard to turn down the president. I liked the fact that there was no pressure."

In fact, Rae said not a single person has put the screws to him, so to speak. Everyone has been really respectful in simply offering information about their candidate, and, Rae added, that had been the experience of the other Wisconsin superdelegates with whom he had spoken.

With the Wisconsin primary coming up on February 19, Rae predicted it would break for Obama. "I have not seen Senator Clinton in town yet. Senator Obama has been in town all week," he said, noting that the Obama camp had paid staffers in the state even before Super Tuesday.

Rae acknowledged rumors that Clinton was more or less conceding the state, which has surprised many political observers who thought the demographics might favor her. In fact, the Clinton campaign has just hired veteran strategist Teresa Vilmain to run their Wisconsin operation. "Teresa knows Wisconsin better than anyone I've ever met," Rae offered, "which means they're certainly investing in the state. But I think it's going to swing to Obama -- and by a large margin. Part of it may have to do with the fact that Senator Obama, being from Illinois, is so close to Wisconsin. He's been here multiple times and he was here campaigning for the governor in 2006."

Despite all the fury over superdelegates, Rae believes the party will have a presumptive nominee by April 22, when Pennsylvania, the last delegate-rich state, votes. "I just don't see it getting to that point," he said of the contest continuing until the convention in August. "It would be bad for the party as a whole to drag this out too much longer. Particularly with the Republicans having John McCain as their nominee, the longer we wait, the more difficult it's going to be for us to unify the party. And we need time to get a general election strategy together."

Spoken like a true superdelegate.

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