18-year-old Georgia delegates to bring energy to political conventions

Will Carter is such a newcomer to Republican politics that he didn’t realize there was a $25 fee to attend his Savannah district convention. Someone had to loan him the money to get in.

If not, the 18-year-old rising Mercer University student wouldn’t be Georgia’s youngest delegate to the Republican National Convention.

Carter showed up to be a supporter for Ted Cruz back in April, at the height of the delegate-wrangling between the Texas U.S. senator and Donald Trump. He gave his spiel to the nominating committee but didn’t get selected. No matter. Carter’s friend nominated him from the floor, and he defeated a veteran Savannah activist by 15 votes.

“I’m excited. It still hasn’t hit me yet. It probably won’t hit me until I get on the plane and go to Cleveland. I’m still kind of awestruck that I won,” Carter said. “I’ll definitely be among the minority, being as young as I am, but the Republican Party needs to embrace younger people.”

Since he was picked as a delegate, he’s had a crash course in politics. He’s heard plots from the Never Trump movement to block the billionaire from the nomination, and he has been lobbied by Trump’s allies to stick with the party’s presumptive nominee. And, for the record, Carter is firmly in Trump’s camp.

“I ran as a delegate to support Ted Cruz under the idea that this would be a contested convention. But Cruz has dropped out, Trump has the numbers, and I had to move on,” Carter said. “Trump may say things I don’t believe. He may be losing in the polls. He may not represent my values. But he’s the closest candidate that does.”

He’s not the only millennial in Georgia’s 76-member delegation, but Carter certainly stands out in a group mostly made up of politicians and seasoned activists who have been involved in politics for decades.

And he plans to make the most of the week, attending as many speeches and events as he can, and capturing it — of course — on Snapchat. The experience could come in handy — especially as he eyes a potential run for public office down the line.

“The fact that I won can stand as a testament to everyone that if you’re young, then with some backbpone and gusto, you can make a difference,” Carter said.

Family influence

Kendall Austin has always been around politics.

The 18-year-old from Decatur had a front-row seat as his grandmother Sandra Austin, the chairwoman of the DeKalb County Democratic Party, carried him to precinct meetings, caucus gatherings, and state and national conventions.

Now, the rising freshman at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., has his own seat at the big kids’ table.

Kendall Austin is a pledged Hillary Clinton delegate to the Democratic National Convention later this month in Philadelphia, a spot he won at the party’s 4th Congressional District election.

“My grandmother set me up with going down to the event,” Austin said. “I delivered my speech and the people believed in me, so they moved for me.”

Although Austin attended the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver with his grandmother, he is a first-time delegate. Like many others, Austin said he was at first taken aback when party officials explained it could cost up to $5,000 for him to attend the convention and that he was on the hook for it himself. But Austin said he and his mother and grandmother will all be headed to Philadelphia, where he said he’s excited to support Clinton.

“I really agree with her views on education,” Austin said. “I like how she fights for the right for everyone to have a quality education without the massive financial burden. I like that she tries to negotiate situations without fighting violence with violence.”

Austin said he originally considered supporting Bernie Sanders.

“I like Sanders’ views on LGBT and equal opportunity for everyone,” he said, “but overall I went with Hillary.”

Whip smart and well-spoken, the former student at Greater Atlanta Christian School said he can envision his own name on a ballot some day. While he’s planning to study biology at Lipscomb in hopes of getting into sports medicine, Austin said running for office is something he’s thought about and is often asked about.

“I’m really looking into it,” he said. “A lot of people ask me, when they first speak to me they think I’d go into law, so we’ll see how it goes.”

He said he’d first consider a legislative race.

“I would hope to build my way up,” he said. (You’ve been warned, state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates. Although the Georgia Constitution requires House members to be at least age 21 on Election Day.)

If he runs, he said he’ll lean on what he’s learned from his two main political influences.

“First and foremost, my grandmother,” he said. “She has had a great impact on my life. And, seeing President Obama and all he’s done. He’s been a great political influence.”

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