Among the thousands of delegates who have converged on Tampa this week is one just shy of the legal voting age.
High school senior Evan Draim, who has been dubbed the GOP’s version of Doogie Howser (and led to at least one comparison of Gen Xer Paul Ryan with Grandma Moses) won his delegate spot last May at only 17.
But don’t let his age fool you. Draim—the youngest-ever delegate, by one longtime Republican convention staffer’s estimate—can talk about any subject near and dear to the Republican Party agenda. He can quote unemployment figures and cites industries he believes have been ruined by the Obama administration. He’s thrilled at the potential for Virginia, a swing state, to help deliver Mitt Romney the presidency.
CNN, MTV, GOP stage
A political junkie and a consumer of the news, in the last week, Draim has become a media darling, easily handling a half-dozen interviews for print, television, and radio media outlets. His appearances include CNN, Politico’s television arm, MTV, European news programs, and more. It’s nearly a full-time job for a Republican convention staffer to keep up with his schedule.
Draim said he was slated to appear on stage briefly during Monday night’s speeches but with the evening’s activities scrapped because of Isaac, it’s unclear whether he’ll make an appearance in the national political arena or not.
Nevertheless, Draim, who will be a senior at St. Stephens & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Va., very soon, is excited about his distinction as the convention’s youngest delegate.
“A lot of young people are doubting their ability to have an effect on the political scene,” Draim told me. He said younger voters who threw their support behind President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign may be feeling disenchanted by the state of the economy as they struggle to find jobs. “The Republican Party has values and the principles that can appeal to younger voters,” he said Monday. And he’s glad to put a face on young conservatives.
One of the things that appeals to him: the GOP view of states’ rights trumping the powers of the federal government.
“Education is a great example of this,” Draim told me in a pre-convention chat last week. “Give students and parents more control over how the money is spent. It’s a great example of how you can use the conservative principle ... to give youth more control of something that’s such a big part of their lives.”
Draim is a self-made politician: While his parents, both lawyers, are Republicans, he said they were never particularly active in the party. For his middle school graduation present, he asked to go to the 2008 Virginia Republican convention at which now-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell was nominated as the state’s gubernatorial candidate. Now-presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was the keynote speaker at one of the related events, and even at that time he was Draim’s pick for president.
Marta Saltus, an alternate delegate who ran alongside Draim for her spot, acts as his convention mother. She keeps track of his backpack and credentials, makes sure he eats, and that he gets to events on time. Although she lives near Draim and his parents, the two met just last spring during their respective races.
“Everybody was so excited to have a fresh voice and young face to bring to the party and represent the young generation. He captured everyone’s attention,” said Saltus, who has two sons, including one Draim’s age. “Everybody wanted to vote for him on the spot.”
Saltus has embraced her role as his organizer. Draim’s father is in town, and his mother will arrive this week, too, but Saltus has been accompanying him almost everywhere.
“I will be his chief of staff later on, for whatever it is,” she said.
Draim’s high school resume includes being captain of the school debate team, president of the Virginia Junior Classical League, running a young conservatives coalition, and participating in his school’s swimming and lacrosse teams. In his spare time, he works on George Allen’s U.S. Senate campaign and goes hunting.
He said politics appeal to him because as a second-generation American, he wanted to give back to a country that’s allowed his family to flourish.
His grandparents emigrated from Hungary after World War II. His mother was born in the United States, and Draim has lived on the same Mount Vernon block all of his life.
Draim turns 18 on Sept. 14, in plenty of time to vote in the general election. He said he was able to vote in the primary because Virginia, like many other states, allows 17-year-olds to do so if they will be 18 in time for the general election.
He made some 700 phone calls so that those choosing a delegate from his congressional district would know who he was, and he ultimately beat out six other candidates to become the top vote-getter.
With that kind of effort and his conservative message, Draim said, “regardless of your age people will realize you’re serious.”
He proclaims being a typical teenager, noting his choice of chicken tenders and fries while we ate lunch together at the convention center Monday. He likes listening to country music and hanging out with his friends. But he said he forces his younger brother Kyle, 16, to listen to talk radio when they’re in the car together, and he once spent the drive explaining the national debt.
“Conservative girls are all over him,” Saltus joked.
When he returns to school as a celebrity, Draim said he’ll have quite a story to tell about his summer vacation.
“I nominated the next president,” he said.
Photo: Evan Draim, 17, is interviewed by a European news station inside the hall where Republican Party delegates will gather this week to nominate Gov. Mitt Romney for president. By Nirvi Shah/Education Week.