Getting through to the next generation Liberal

As if 30 minutes on the treadmill didn’t warm ProudLiberal’s heart enough, I found a great story about a young person who’s dedicated enough to make a stand, and do something to show her support for her candidate, John Kerry (click for story). Seventeen year old Sarah Bender has declared that she wants to help John Kerry win the White House this November. Per Ohio’s laws, the teenager was able to cast a vote for Kerry now, since she will turn eighteen prior to the November election. She also intends on heading out to Boston to take part in history, as she is trying to become a Kerry delegate for the Democratic National convention.

Good for you, Sarah!Posted on Mon, Mar. 01, 2004
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Young Democrat is well on her way

Medina teen’s decision to back Kerry just may get her to convention

By Craig Webb

Beacon Journal staff writer

MEDINA – Sarah Bender, in most respects, is a typical teen-ager.

The 17-year-old’s life is a blur as she tries to juggle her classes, a part-time job, a boyfriend and track practice.

But what separates her from the rest of the juniors at Medina High School is that she stands a pretty good shot at helping to shape the face of the Democratic presidential ticket.

Bender is among the youngest Ohio Democrats poised to earn a coveted spot as a delegate on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Boston this summer.

And so as voters head to the ballot box today, Bender has a vested interest in how well her candidate, John Kerry, fares when the final tally is announced. Since she won’t be 18 until just before the November election, Ohio law nonetheless permits her to vote in today’s primary, but for candidates only.

If Kerry does well — that is, gets well over half the votes cast in her congressional district — Bender has a virtual lock on becoming a delegate to the convention.

For Ohio Republicans — with a winner-take-all primary and George Bush the only candidate for the presidential nomination — the delegate selection process was clear from the outset.

But for Democrats, being in the right place at the right time to win a delegate seat at the Boston convention was considerably more challenging.

Against the grain

In January, when the prospective delegates were selected in caucuses held in each congressional district, most Democrats were elbowing their way for a chance to represent Howard Dean or Wesley Clark, who were then seen as the front-runners.

“Nobody thought Kerry had a chance back then,” Bender said. “So I figured why not — and go for Kerry.”

But in the six weeks of state caucuses and primaries since late January, the candidacies of both Dean and Clark collapsed.

And the stunning turn of events left those few folks — such as Bender — who agreed to be delegates for Kerry or John Edwards sitting in the driver’s seat for the party.

Bender, who says she’s had a lifelong interest in politics, is still shocked that her candidate is now the party’s front-runner.

“My friends all think it’s pretty cool,” she said. “But I don’t think they understand the whole thing.”

No one is more shocked about the outcome than Sarah’s dad, Greg Bender, who is the Democratic Party chairman for Tuscarawas County.

Like many others in January, Greg Bender said, he was convinced Dean was the fastest horse in the race, so he signed on to be one of his delegates.

“So who do you think has the political instincts in this family?” he asked with a laugh.

The selection of Democratic Party delegates in Ohio is a fairly complicated matter.

Some of the 140 spots are set aside by the party for powerful politicians such as congressmen or mayors of large cities, or even major contributors. But most of the slots are selected in small caucuses held throughout the state where Democrats of all walks of life have the chance to run to represent one of the presidential candidates on today’s ballot.

When Ohio’s primary elections were held in May, the presidential nominees for both parties were essentially already decided. And Dan Trevas, a spokesman for the state’s Democratic Party, said there was little guessing among party faithful as to which candidate prospective delegates wanted to represent.

Like Greg Bender, Trevas said, most Democrats who trudged off to the party caucuses in each congressional district in early January figured either Dean or Clark was the likely nominee.

Short of delegates

This logic has left many congressional districts in the state with unfilled potential delegate slots for both Kerry and Edwards, who are now the most likely to earn most of the delegates.

In the 16th Congressional District, which includes southern Medina County and all of Wayne and Stark counties, there are five delegate spots — two male and three female. Right now, just one man is signed up as an Edwards delegate, leaving four open spots. For Kerry, there’s Sarah Bender, another woman and a man already tapped, with room for one more woman and a man.

In the 13th Congressional District, which includes northern Medina County and western Summit County and some of Akron’s west neighborhoods, there are six delegate slots — three men and three women. No one is signed up to be an Edwards delegate, and for Kerry, only one man has signed on.

In the 14th Congressional District, which covers northeast Summit County and a swath of northern Portage County, there are six delegate spots — three men and three women. Edwards had just one woman sign up in January, while Kerry has a man and a woman on board.

And in the 17th Congressional District, which includes most of Akron and western Summit County and central and southern Portage County, there are seven delegate slots — three female and four male. Edwards has a full slate while Kerry has just one man and one woman in place.

`Strange election’

There are plenty of delegates lined up for Dean, Clark and Dennis Kucinich, but Trevas said it is unlikely those candidates will earn the needed 15 percent of the vote in most congressional districts to earn many delegates.

And since many of the delegate slots for Kerry and Edwards are vacant, Trevas said, Democrats will convene a second round of caucuses in mid-April to fill the holes.

Summit County Democratic Party Chairman Russ Pry said he can’t remember so many vacant delegate slots heading into a presidential primary.

“It’s just a strange election, no question about it,” he said. “It goes to show that 60 days in politics makes a huge difference.”

Like almost everyone else in January, Minerva Democrat Dixie Wadsworth said she thought Dean was going to be the man.

But something about Kerry’s message stirred her and prompted her to run as a delegate for him.

Unless Edwards stuns everyone and has a huge day in Ohio today, Wadsworth said, it looks like she will win her first convention trip, which she’ll pay for herself.

“I told my husband the other day that, other than marrying him and having my daughter, this is the most wonderful thing to happen in my life.”
Craig Webb can be reached at 330-723-7119 or cwebb@thebeaconjournal.com

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