Not quite old enough to vote, teen will be a delegate at the GOP convention

August 22, 2012

Evan Draim makes Paul Ryan, the youthful Republican vice presidential contender, look like a late bloomer — less Doogie Howser, M.D., and more Grandma Moses.

At 17, the high school senior from Mount Vernon is not of voting age. But he’ll be 18 by Election Day, making him eligible to serve and vote as a delegate to the Republican National Convention next week. Of the more than 2,000 delegates headed for Tampa, Draim will be the youngest.

“I think it’s great,” said Draim, who learned that he had the distinction when a national party official called with the news a few weeks ago.

“The reason I ran [for delegate] in the first place was to represent young Americans. I’m happy to be going down to Tampa and bringing voice to what I consider an under-represented group, which is American students,” Draim said.

Draim, who will turn 18 on Sept. 14, was one of seven people who competed for three delegate slots from Virginia’s 8th Congressional District in May. He was the top vote-getter among the bunch, defeating Arlington County Republican Committee Chairman Charles Hokanson, among others.

Draim pulled off the victory with an outreach effort that would have tested even teenage tolerance for telephone time.

“I pretty much called almost all 700 people who were registered to vote in the convention,” he said.

He also made appeals in person at Republican club meetings, all while juggling Advanced Placement biology, economics, U.S. history, the swim team, the debate team and other activities at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, where he is entering his senior year.

“Almost every night of the week, I’d finish school, do whatever after-school activities I had and to go to tea party gatherings, local Republican meetings,” he said. “It was quite a process.”

Hokanson, who said he got a late start on his campaign, tips his hat to the whippersnapper who bested him.

“He earned that delegate seat the old-fashioned way: He worked for it,” Hokanson said. “He was calling people. He was going to every meeting every night. He was all over Arlington, Falls Church, Alexandria, Fairfax.”

He has hardly slowed down since, continuing to attend Republican club meetings in addition to going door-to-door for the GOP ticket. He’s helping former Republican senator and governor George Allen’s Senate race against former Democratic governor Timothy M. Kaine, serving as chairman of Young Ambassadors for Allen.

Draim has never attended a national political convention, but he’s a veteran of two state GOP conventions. The first was in 2009, when Gov. Robert F. McDonnell was nominated, and the second was a smaller gathering this year to decide party issues.

His father took him to the 2009 convention. That fact could lead someone to conclude that Draim is the offspring of politically active parents who dragged him to bull roasts and shad plankings since he was in diapers.

In fact, it’s the other way around.

Draim’s father, a legal malpractice defense lawyer, took him to the state convention in Richmond three years ago, but at the behest of the teenager, who was too young to drive.

“It was kind of like a graduation present for me,” said Draim, who had just completed middle school.

Draim’s political inspiration skips a generation, to his maternal grandparents, Ida and Anton Wurczinger. They came to the United States after World War II, having fled Soviet oppression in Hungary.

“I view it as my responsibility to give back to the country that has given them so much, and I want to make sure the American dream that helped my ancestors is there for future generations of immigrants and graduating students,” he said.

David Rexrode called it “absolutely great” to have young people such as Draim engaged in the campaign.

“What Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan are talking about is solving the problems, and stopping [the] spending [of] money of the next generation,” said Rexrode, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia. “So it’s good to have younger folks as delegates.”

The GOP’s message of smaller, more limited government resonates with Draim as a young man itching to take charge of his life.

“Young people should desire the same freedom and individuality from their government . . . they desire from their parents and other authority figures at this age,” he said.

A student of politics, Draim knows the convention will be more of a scripted Broadway production than democracy at work. He figures the last time there was consequential wrangling at a convention was in 1964, when his mother, a securities lawyer, was in grade school.

But even if the votes Draim casts as a delegate do not change the course of history, he thinks his presence could help reshape the GOP’s image — and help Romney try to wrest some of the youth vote away from President Obama.

“I thought it was necessary to have a younger, newer face represent the Republican Party,” he said. “We’ve been stereotyped in such a way that many young people would never consider voting for a Republican. I’m trying to go down to Tampa to tear down a lot of preconceived notions about who makes up the Republican Party.”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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