Correction to This Article
ยท An Oct. 28 Metro article on student campaign activists misspelled the name of Gaithersburg teacher Josh Schuman.

Too Young to Vote, But Electing to Care

By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Daniel Cinquegrani and Gabe Schwartzman started kindergarten together in 1995 and have been friends ever since. They were in the same Cub Scouts den and came up through the Clinton and Bush eras side by side, grade by grade. But now, as students at Bethesda's Walter Johnson High School and part of booming teen involvement in the presidential campaign, the lifelong pals find themselves on opposite sides of the ballot.

Cinquegrani, 17, is president of the school's Young Conservative Club, attended the Republican National Convention in August and volunteers most weekends for Sen. John McCain's campaign. Schwartzman, 18, founded the school's Peace and Social Action Club, volunteers as a climate-change activist and is heading to Virginia to knock on doors for Sen. Barack Obama's campaign this weekend. "We talk politics and have both given each other that 'you-can't-really-believe-that' look," Cinquegrani said. "But we're respectful. We were friends before we were political."

The efforts by the classmates-turned-political-foes are among the examples of what party officials and teachers in the area describe as an extraordinary level of political involvement by high school students in this year's election. Hundreds of local students, many not old enough to vote, are making phone calls, painting rally signs, knocking on doors and raising funds as the campaign enters its final days.

"It's quite remarkable -- the students are more engaged than I've ever seen them," said Josh Shuman, a history teacher at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg and adviser to the High School Democrats Club. "Every day, you see more hats and buttons."

At his school, as at most Montgomery County campuses, Obama (D-Ill.) draws the most support by far, Shuman said.

But Republicans, although outnumbered in the county, said they, too, have seen a jump in student interest. Daniel Zubairi, a youth outreach coordinator for the Maryland GOP, said there are Young Republican Clubs in at least 15 high schools in Montgomery, each with 10 to 40 members.

"We are seeing more activism this year," said Zubairi, who is also a state director for the McCain campaign. Assuming that Montgomery is a lost cause for the Arizona senator, Zubairi has been tapping the teenage supporters for weekly canvassing trips to Virginia. "These kids know the issues really well. It blows your mind."

After school one day last week, the Obama campaign's Bethesda field office was crowded with young volunteers. At one folding table, high school students were typing names into a database and talking serious politics with the surrounding campaign workers. Carmen Izurieta, 16, a junior at Walt Whitman, suddenly pointed at the blouse of Dawn Finzi, 16, a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase.

"Is that American Apparel?" Izurieta asked.

Finzi looked down. "No, Mustard Seed."

"Oh," said Izurieta, and they went seamlessly back to a conversation about get-out-the-vote efforts in Virginia and the other work of electing a president.

Teen fashion chatter has become a fixture of the headquarters, said office director David Hart, along with gum chewing, nonstop texting and other hallmarks of high school life. "It has been a blast to have their energy. They make this a fun place to be," he said.

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