This Saturday, Republicans across Washington state will cast votes for their presidential nominee. It will be their big moment. In 2008 it was mine.
I began the year as a high school senior, and I looked forward to doing something I had been longing to do since taking U.S. History in 8th grade: to vote in a presidential election. When I learned about the slate of candidates, I was certain I would be voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton — first in the Democratic primary and then in the general election.
I could not wait to be a part of history and support someone I felt so strongly about.
I was teethed on a love for Hillary Clinton. I of course did not understand all her complexities, but as a little girl I looked up to this strong woman leader. My childhood fascination with her developed over time into a respectful admiration. When she began campaigning to be the Democratic presidential nominee in the 2008 election, I was proud to fully support her.
I did not have much time to volunteer myself towards her campaign but I told friends why I thought she was the best for the job. I said she was a sophisticated politician with experience and clear goals for what she wanted to do in the White House. I also found it exciting to think I could be a part of electing the first woman U.S. president.
This was not the popular position for my demographic.
Young voters were engaging in droves to support Barack Obama, and I quickly began to get lobbied by my friends to change my mind. People called me a young feminist, as if that were a bad thing. It’s not, of course. They’d bring up things Obama said and argue that he was the politician for our generation while Clinton was one from previous years.
One of my friends told me early on that there was no way Clinton would win, and convinced me to go to the Obama rally at Key Arena in Seattle. It was happening the day before the Democratic caucuses in early February, and my friends jested that maybe it would finally get me to vote the “right way” like the rest of my peers.
Maybe my friends saw the Obama rally as an intervention moment for me.
We arrived at Key Arena at 9 a.m. and I remember expecting to see more people. Within the
next hour though, the crowd arrived and began to snake through the entire Seattle Center.
People spoke of how Governor Christine Gregoire had endorsed Obama, saying he was a “charismatic and skilled leader that could bring the country together.” The governor noted her admiration for Clinton, but clearly her love did not run as deep as mine.
But then the Obama address was, well, mesmerizing. He arrived late after taking the time to meet with the crowd of thousands outside before he came into the arena. In his speech he touched topics that mattered to me as a young voter — job creation, economic growth and health care reform — and I left feeling motivated in a new way.
I was now confused about how to vote in the caucuses. That night Clinton was hosting an event in Seattle, a rally at Pier 30 on the waterfront. I desperately wanted to go, but no one wanted to go with me. I’ll say that again: none of my friends wanted to go.
That evening, I assessed why I was a Clinton supporter. Much of my rationale had been rooted in seeing her as a more experienced politician whom I felt would be better as president, but after seeing Obama’s presence on stage, it became a toss up. He made me feel that he valued the youth more, and I felt myself sliding into his camp.
The next day I went to the caucus with my mom. I convinced her that morning to vote Obama with me. We both caucused for Obama and I even persuaded a few other individuals at our caucus to vote Obama as well.
I was called a bandwagon fan for voting Obama that day, but I never felt that I was switching sides. I changed my vote from Clinton but retained all my respect for her. I simply became convinced that Clinton would not win and wanted to ensure the second-best for me got the support he needed.
In August, Clinton spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. In her speech she said “Whether you voted for me or you voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as one single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team. And none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines.”
I watched with tears in my eyes, aware of my mixture of sadness and respect. But if Clinton was moving forward then I would too. When she came out in full support of Obama and began campaigning on his behalf, I smiled and hung a “Hope” banner as well.
I came to understand why people were so infatuated with Obama. Will.i.am wrote a song based on his “Yes We Can” speech, the New York Times endorsed him, and then Leonardo DiCaprio came out in support of him. Say what you will about the former and latter, but all three of these were significant to me as a young voter.
Upon entering the University of Washington, I joined the Young Democrats and helped
register voters on campus. I had an Obama sign in my dorm-room window and marched across the campus with hundreds of my peers when he won that November.
But I never fell out of love with Hillary. Even now, I’m a Hillary supporter; I smile instinctively when I see her on TV, defend her in a crowded room and even when some see her as a polarizing figure. I feel I’ve never faltered.
In fact, Clinton is just reaching her professional prime. As Secretary of State, her approval ratings hover around two-thirds in support, an all time high for her. She’s a leader both in the country and abroad, and a few even tried to encourage her to run against Obama in 2012 — yes this year.
There could only be one president, but there can be two leaders for my generation.