By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
All that online pressure, all the instant messages on AIM and Gchat, all those YouTube comments and Facebook messages and wall posts added up to something: Two more delegates for Sen. Barack Obama.
In a YouTube video posted shortly before midnight yesterday, Lauren Wolfe and Awais Khaleel, who as president and vice president of the College Democrats of America are among the youngest Democratic superdelegates, endorsed Obama. In the two-minute video, Wolfe said: "We've received over 5,000 e-mails . . . hundreds of YouTube comments. . . . We support Senator Barack Obama."
More than two weeks ago, Wolfe and Khaleel did what no superdelegate had done before: They posted a YouTube video asking college students to tell them whom to endorse.
"Guess who might decide the next leader of the free world?" asked Khaleel, 23, a junior at the University of Wisconsin in Madison: "Me!" Added Wolfe, 25, a law student at the University of Detroit-Mercy, "As the Democratic Party's two superdelegates who represent college students, we want to make sure that our vote belongs to you."
Promises were made. "We're more accessible than your governor, your senator, or really any other superdelegate out there," Khaleel said. Then Wolfe delivered the kicker: "We will absolutely listen to what you have to say."
And listen, listen and listen.
This is, after all, the year the youth vote exploded. Young voters have turned out in record numbers -- doubling in New Hampshire, tripling in Iowa and quadrupling in Tennessee, according to Sujatha Jahagirdar of the the nonpartisan group Student PIRG's New Voters Project. Just as significantly, they've also pushed for more accountability in this protracted campaign. Hence Wolfe and Khaleel's video.
"It was our way to take the mystery off what superdelegates, at least superdelegates like us, are supposed to do," Wolfe explained.
Their YouTube video has been viewed nearly 21,000 times, receiving more than 500 comments. Some posted video responses. A Temple University student named Josh, in a serious, somber tone, urged them to endorse Sen. Hillary Clinton, "by far the more experienced candidate." Karla, a student at San Diego State University, excitedly said this was her first time uploading a video on the site -- "Can you believe that?" -- and recorded arguably the longest 44-second video on YouTube.
The end goes something like this: ". . . please, please, please vote for Obama. Vote Obama. Pleeeaaassse. It would mean a lot to me and trust me when I say this: a lot, a lot, like, hundreds of thousands of people would thank you for it. Like, seriously, okay I'm making this too long. Bye. Thank you. Please vote Obama. Obama. Bama. Bama. Barack Obama."
That was just on YouTube.
Last Thursday, Students for Barack Obama, which began as a Facebook group but became so successful that it soon became a part of the campaign, sent Wolfe and Khaleel a letter. Essentially it read: Young voters have flocked to Obama -- "in contests where demographic data are available," the letter noted, "Obama has won an average of 62% of the youth vote compared to Clinton's 34%" -- so it's your responsibility to represent those young voters. Soon, a Facebook group was created to petition Wolfe and Khaleel to back Obama. It now has 436 members, including Hani Omar Khalil, 29, a lawyer in New York. He volunteered for Obama in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New York.
"When I saw their YouTube video, and then when I joined the Facebook petition, I felt like there was something powerful really going on here," Khalil said, "and it's not really about Obama but about the process -- how transparent it's become."
But Wolfe and Khaleel have been in a tough spot. College Democrats of America is a part of the Democratic National Committee; Wolfe and Khaleel, in turn, are officers of the DNC. And like Howard Dean, its chairman, officers of the DNC haven't endorsed. "DNC rules require officers to withhold endorsements until the last primary or until there is a presumptive nominee," said DNC spokeswoman Stacie Paxton. Officers don't want to be seen as biased toward a candidate. The DNC declined comment on the endorsement.
Here's another complication: Wolfe is from Michigan. Her endorsment, then, won't count until what happens to Michigan's delegation is decided.
"It's been so mysterious, this whole superdelegate process," said Wolfe, who's serving her second term as president of the College Dems. It's been an intense, grueling period, she said. Finals, of course. Then all the phone calls, instant messages, YouTube comments, Facebook wall posts. And the call from Chelsea Clinton.
Added Wolfe: "I just wanted to do what I was elected to do, and that's to represent college students. We're participating. We're turning out. We're helping change the process."