Young people running for elected office face attacks on their age but say they're capitalising on a 'shift' in US politics

Josh Holstein, Christina Haswood, Sam Grady/ProvidedJosh Holstein (L), Christina Haswood (C), and Sam Grady (R) are seeking elected office in their state legislatures.
  • Several candidates under the age of 30 spoke to Business Insider about why they’re seeking elected office and their experience campaigning as young people.
  • Christina Haswood, 26 and a Democrat from Kansas, said her background in public health and as a Navajo woman inspired her to run for the state legislature.
  • Josh Holstein, a 19-year-old Republican from West Virginia, said he was running as a result of local support for President Donald Trump and because of a “shift” toward Republican values in the state.
  • Sam Grady, 28 and a Democrat from Ohio, explained his strained relationship with establishment Democrats in his district and rebuffed their rejection of him.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Sam Grady, 28, in Ohio, would be one of the youngest members of the Ohio Statehouse if elected. Grady said he decided to run as a write-in candidate in the primary race because he was frustrated local Democrats in Richland County, Ohio, had neglected to put up a candidate to compete against Republicans.

In April, Grady won the primary race and officially became the party’s candidate for the District 2 seat in the Ohio House of Representatives.

But Grady, who is currently attending classes to finish his undergrad degree at a branch campus of The Ohio State University, said he has not received the support of the Richland County Democratic Party.

Local Democrats have rebuked him, he said.

Grady speculated their distance from him began in May when he used the hashtag “IAmAntifa” on a Facebook post. The hashtag was popular on social media at the time, he said. Antifa, short for “anti-fascist,” describes a decentralized, leaderless movement dedicated to combatting right-wing authoritarianism and white supremacy.

The group has drawn the ire of Republicans and President Trump in particular, who has threatened to classify it as a terrorist organisation.

Not long after, Larry Weirich, the chairman of the Richland County Democratic Party, said in a news release the party did “NOT and will NOT condone his actions or statements. Furthermore, we DO NOT and WILL NOT endorse his candidacy during the 2020 general election.”

When the Mansfield News Journal requested clarification, Weirich said “there’s just a lot of things that we don’t want to be associated with,” pointing to Grady’s social media posts but did not say which the party disagreed with. The Richland County Democratic Party did not return Business Insider’s request for clarification.

Grady, who had refused to participate in the county party’s vetting process earlier this year, said he felt local Democrats were “completely shooting themselves in the foot” in denouncing him.

“The local county party is basically a collection of 12 baby boomers who get around monthly and have dinner,” Grady said. “They’re not serious about running or winning anything. But I think it’s an interesting microcosm of the national Democratic Party.

Grady said he believes his beef with the local Democratic Party likely represents a microcosm of young people’s general attitudes toward establishment politics.

“All the young people I talk to in this district have either feelings of extreme anger of what the local party did or extreme apathy about it,” he said. “I’m sure local Democratic parties in other parts of the country are much younger, much more diverse, and much less afraid of being judged negatively by Republicans.”

He added: “Hopefully it’s not a trend that’s a rejection of the two parties, but a trend that’s more about young people primarying establishment candidates and taking over their Democratic parties local and statewide.”

As The New York Times reported in March, while they’re poised to gain considerable electoral clout at the polls this year, young people have often felt that candidates don’t speak to them, leading them to sit out the election.

While he acknowledged his region is largely red — Trump won 66% of the vote in Richland County in 2016 — he’s also said met like-minded young people during the course of his campaign even in his “very rural, very religious, conservative community.”

“I’ve met a lot of young, local activists in the community — like very left-wing activists — talking about things like wealth inequality, the militarization of police, and even stuff like normalizing sex work. It’s been one of the few positive feelings in what’s been a cynical and negative process.”

“We’re seeing that our representatives don’t really look like us”

Four years ago, Christina Haswood cast a ballot for the first time. This week, she’s hoping voters in Kansas 10th district will cast a vote for her.

At 26, Haswood, a Democrat and lifelong resident of Lawrence, is aiming to become one of the youngest members of the Kansas State Legislature. She hadn’t always anticipated a career in politics, she told Business Insider, but as a Navajo woman with a background in public health, she was drawn toward one.

Her journey into politics had been sparked in high school. During a class her first year she realised all of her classmates, like her, had family members with Type 2 diabetes, a disease affecting more than 23% of the Native American population, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

“I knew there was work that needed to be done in Kansas,” Haswood said.

In February, Haswood contacted Wichita Rep. Ponka-we Victors when she heard about legislation to address missing and murdered Indigenous people. The two kept in contact, and eventually, Victors recommended Haswood enter the race for the state legislature, she said.

She said her age created excitement but it was also used in attacks lobbed at her from her primary opponents, both of whom she beat in May, making her the presumptive winner as state Republicans did not put forth a challenger, the Lawrence Jornal-World reported.

“I would go to roundtable talks and I would look around the room and see I was the only person of colour, the only Indigenous person, and the only young person there,” she said. “The only young Indigenous woman, the only Navajo woman there. This list keeps going on.”

Haswood brought on younger people to work for her campaign. In the primary, her campaign manager was 25, a year younger than her, and some staffers had only recently graduated high school. With the help of one high school volunteer, Haswood even crafted viral TikTok videos, the social-media app particularly popular with young people and largely untapped by politicians. The videos helped solicit donations and encouraged people to phone bank for her, she said.

“With more younger people getting involved, we’re seeing that our representatives don’t really look like us,” Haswood said. “I think that brought a drive for change because I know during my campaign, issues such as criminal justice reform, police brutality, and racism came up.”

Ushering in a “new generation of leadership”

Josh Holstein in Boone County, West Virginia didn’t think he was ready to run for office in 2020 but said he wanted to bring “a new generation of leadership” to state politics. At 19, he’d be the youngest current member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Holstein, a Republican candidate for District 23, told Business Insider he didn’t grow up in an overtly political household, but getting involved in local politics wasn’t difficult.

“Here in West Virginia, the Republican candidates really seem like a family,” Holstein said. “If people want to volunteer it doesn’t matter — they all feel like we’re family here working toward the same goal. They treated me like an adult. That’s something I really admired.

“They say this is a deeply red state, and that might seem true from the outside looking in, but I’m the first Republican in my entire family,” he added. “I remember there was a time when anyone mentioned Republican politics — not just my parents — but my extended family, it was like you were an outcast.”

Like Haswood, Holstein’s experience as a young candidate has been mixed.

His opponents, he said, have “played on my lack of experience and holding office.”

“That’s been the biggest obstacle. Some people say I’m too young, but then I have to talk about them about issues, and it alleviates their fears.”

But his age has also presented opportunities, Holstein said.

“People say hey we need somebody young, somebody, with energy, somebody with a fresh face, and somebody who wants to work and not just hold a title,” he said. “I would say that has resonated much better than the opposition.”

Holstein told Business Insider he first planned to run in 2022, but because of local enthusiasm for President Donald Trump (the president won 86% of Boone County in 2016), he decided to run this year. Holstein described himself as an “anti-establishment” candidate, which is bolstered by his new-on-the-scene status.

“There’s a shift happening here, and I decided to run because I’m supportive of that shift,” he said.

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