- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2008

SAN ANTONIO — If a hypothetical President Barack Obama seeks a second term in 2012, he already would have a built-in arsenal of supporters — the eighth-graders of today will be first-time voters that year.

Emily Guthrie, an eighth-grader from suburban Austin, started the Obamaettes group at her school. She has told her friends they need to pay attention to politics now because what happens over the next four years will shape their future.

“What happens now matters then,” said Emily, 13. “In four years, it will be 2012, and we’ll be graduating, we’ll be 18. People don’t realize that as we become young adults, he’s going to bring change.”

Mr. Obama of Illinois has attracted young voters from across the country, and his campaign has reached out to them with “Barackstar” events, popular actors and a campaign promise to make college affordable for everyone.

But beyond the 18-year-olds who have backed his candidacy more than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s, he is attracting even younger teenagers — such as the high school freshman in San Jose, Calif., who knew he was unlikely to meet the candidate but spent Saturdays organizing supporters at get-out-the-vote events.

Or consider Charlie Comfort, 15, of Oskaloosa, Iowa, who made more phone calls than any other volunteer in town, and the South Carolina high school sophomores who braved door-knocking for an election they weren’t old enough to participate in.

Emily is a campaign organizer of the present and future, and she’s star-struck. She said she never before paid attention to politics but appreciates Mr. Obama for sparking interest with youth.

“It’s really good to hear somebody who can be personable at a rally. So often, candidates take a professional twist, and he just seems to go out there and have fun,” she said. “He feels like a person rather than somebody who is running for president.”

It wasn’t all about the “cool” for her, and she noted that she appreciated the details in his recent Austin, Texas, rally, such as proposing to give teachers merit pay. She first heard about Mr. Obama when he appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show long before he was running for president.

Her mother, Renee Guthrie, is a precinct captain for the Obama campaign in Westlake. Mrs. Guthrie, a retired nurse case manager, braved frigid weather to drive Emily to the evening Austin rally last month. They were blocks away from the candidate but stayed for the entire speech.

She said she was proud of her daughter, who organizes Obamaettes events during lunch break at school and has poured her heart into the campaign.

Top Obama supporters, including California first lady Maria Shriver and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, have said their children were major factors in their decisions.

“At the urging of my 18-year-old daughter, I could not sit in the bleachers any longer,” Mrs. McCaskill said.

Ohio state Treasurer Richard Cordray said when introducing the senator before a rally last week in Toledo, Ohio, that “I come to this as a father” of a 9-year-old and a 4-year-old.

“I believe, for my children, the next president will be the one who, for all their formative years, will be their president, and they’re going to influence my children’s lives greatly,” he said. “It has become crystal clear to me over the course of this campaign I want their president to be Barack Obama.”

The Obama campaign has focused on children, saying on the “Kids for Obama” Web site that children younger than 12 for the first time “have a place to go and actually vote — through their voice.”

“What a great way to be introduced to politics and to express your support for Senator Obama,” reads the welcome message on the site, which includes a youth blog and hypes the “Kids for Obama starter kit,” which includes an Obama logo coloring sheet.

The site urges children to “throw a party” or host a “sleep-over” and to put Obama stickers on book bags. It even encourages writing letters to the local paper and getting friends to participate in “T-shirt Thursday” by sporting Obama gear once a week at school.

Other suggestions for getting involved include finding a pen pal or drawing a picture of the senator or “an expression of democracy” and sending it to the Chicago headquarters to be displayed for Mr. Obama. It also recommends for children to “take an adult (voting age) to the polls on Election Day and encourage them to vote for you, by voting for Senator Obama.”

Mr. Obama penned a letter to be read at his June 2007 Kids for Obama kickoff in River Forest, Ill., telling the children, “I hope you learned a lot … and that you continue to be politically involved as you get older.”

In video from the event posted online, a preteen boy grinned into the camera flashing peace signs, saying: “I just like Obama ‘cause he’s just cool. Peace!”

The Rockabelles, three young sisters from Connecticut, are using the senator to launch a music career. A representative said they will donate portions of the sales from their single, “We Got the Mo,” to the campaign.

Among the lyrics are “h-o-p-e, hope!” and, “You’re on a roll, ‘Bama. Barack and roll, now I’m takin’ a stroll down P-e-n-n-s-y-l-v-a-n-i-a Avenue, and the sky is blue, Obama, Obama, this one’s for you!”

Mrs. Guthrie summed it up as she beamed at Emily and her friends: “They’re going to be the ones inheriting our future. His legacy is their legacy.”

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