When President Obama’s campaign unveiled its list of 35 national co-chairs last month, it read like a who’s who of politics and Hollywood. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, actress Eva Longoria, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick — all selected to be “ambassadors” for the president’s reelection.
But sandwiched between the glitterati, a name notably lacked star-power: Sai Iyer.
“People have definitely asked, ‘Why you?’” since last month’s announcement, said Iyer. “Even me.”
Iyer, a Virginia Commonwealth University student, describes himself as a “regular” guy. The 22-year-old son of Indian immigrants, he spent his childhood in North Carolina and Ohio before his family settled in Fairfax about 10 years ago.
“I grew up in this country as a minority,” Iyer said Tuesday. “I never felt like [our leaders] were like me, and I wasn’t really into politics or current events.”
Then, in 2004, came Obama. Iyer, just 14 at the time, heard him speak at the Democratic National Convention and immediately identified with the young politician — “a skinny kid” and “the son of an immigrant” just like Iyer.
Iyer says he followed Obama’s “meteoric rise” in politics, and two days after graduation from high school, he packed a suitcase, moved to Richmond and began campaigning on behalf of Obama’s presidential bid.
For three months, Iyer went door-to-door and cold-called potential voters. He slept on sofas. And he soaked up the campaign life.
That fall at VCU, where he is studying International Studies, Religious Studies and Mass Communication, Iyer helped lead the campus’s “Students for Barack Obama” group and stayed in touch with the campaign staff following the election.
In the fall of 2011, Iyer interned at the White House, rekindling connections and his own passion. Three weeks ago came a fateful call.
“They asked me to be a co-chair,” he says, noting that he accepted the post without a second thought. “I’m an ambassador for youth. It’s a huge responsibility and a tremendous honor.”
Iyer and the other co-chairs are expected to advise Obama on key issues and mobilize voters across the country.
According to Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, the co-chairs “varied backgrounds and experiences will prove invaluable as they connect with the President’s supporters and advocate on his behalf on the campaign trail.’’
Messina was not available to comment on specific co-chairs, but Iyer guesses he was chosen for his ability to engage students, a skill he demonstrated while campaigning in Richmond four years ago.
“There are [co-chairs] with huge political backgrounds. Celebrities who have been really supportive. And there are five or six of us that are just volunteers. Just regular folks. But that’s what this campaign is about. Regular folks.”