Meet the 26-year-old Dem state leader trying to convince her Gen Z peers to vote for Biden

For Democrats, not only is Anderson Clayton a 26-year-old state party leader, she is the future. Ariana Baio headed to North Carolina to meet her

Monday 04 March 2024 17:47 GMT
Anderson Clayton, 26, is the youngest Democratic state party chair in the country and ready to encourage other young voters to support Joe Biden in 2024
Anderson Clayton, 26, is the youngest Democratic state party chair in the country and ready to encourage other young voters to support Joe Biden in 2024 (iStock, Julia Saqui )

When Anderson Clayton walks into the room casually dressed in a fun graphic tee, nearly everyone’s head turns and the noisy chatter lulls into excited whispers. Eyes remain locked on her as she begins embracing each of her fellow Democrat leaders.

Clayton is somewhat of a local celebrity in North Carolina, her energy enough to move an immovable object.

The rest of the country doesn’t realise that this 26-year-old is currently leading the Democratic Party in North Carolina, a pretty serious job at any age.

But for those at the Young Democrats of North Carolina Convention, not only is she the state party leader, she is the future.

Anderson Clayton speaks at the Young Democrats of North Carolina Convention
Anderson Clayton speaks at the Young Democrats of North Carolina Convention (Julia Saqui)

A natural politician, Clayton works the room recalling people’s names and a fun fact about them all while spreading the good word of the Democratic Party. After all, her job as the state party chair is to network, fundraise and get people to vote.

Yet Clayton approaches her role with a refreshing irreverence: She cracks jokes, swears like a sailor and drops “vibes”, “mood” and “feels” into her conversations.

When she speaks about the Democratic agenda, she doesn’t stop. In fact, she speaks so much that by the time she takes the stage at the convention, her voice is hoarse and begins disappearing during inflections. That doesn’t stop Clayton from ad-libbing an impassioned speech about the importance of maintaining democracy and fighting for the values young people believe in.

That enthusiasm is exactly what makes Clayton the perfect surrogate for the Biden–Harris campaign in recruiting young people to get out and vote, especially in a potential swing state like North Carolina.

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Unlike many of her fellow Gen Z voters, Clayton feels overwhelmingly positive about both Democrats winning this election and the presumed nominee, President Joe Biden.

She points to Biden’s record on climate change, his cancelling of student loan debt, his implementation of an anti-gun violence initiative, and his commitment to protecting the right to an abortion as examples of policies that resonate with young voters.

“The issues that I hear a lot about in particular on college campuses right now are mental health, gun violence, [housing and grocery] affordability,” Clayton told The Independent.

And Clayton talks to a lot of young people, constantly travelling across the state and country. In February alone, Clayton visited South Carolina, Washington DC, Iowa and New York to speak with young voters.

Despite her eagerness, Clayton is fully aware she’s in the minority when it comes to this election. On college campuses, the people she chats with are not amped about voting in November.

“I went to UNC Charlotte’s campus the other day, I was in a political science class, and I asked every single one of the students… ‘Raise your hand if you are excited to vote for the 80-year-old president’,” Clayton said. “Nobody in that class raised their hand. And I was like, ‘But how many of you are still going to vote?’ Every single one of them raised their hand, except for one.”

Young Democrats sit around tables and listen to speeches at the Young Democrats of North Carolina Convention
Young Democrats sit around tables and listen to speeches at the Young Democrats of North Carolina Convention (Julia Saqui)

A win is a win, as far as Clayton is concerned. And she wants to remind young people that they hold the power to change the things they’re unhappy with.

“People look at you and say ‘You can’t do anything about it either, it’s just happening to you.’ And I’m like, ‘No, we can do everything about it.’ And this presidency, this administration has said so because we can push him,” she said.

Clayton believes Biden is more likely to hear complaints and respond to them with legislation, unlike the presumed Republican nominee – a choose-your-fighter situation, if you will.

“We can’t push a Donald Trump, who doesn’t want young people to have the right to vote right now. We can’t push a Donald Trump, who doesn’t want people to have the right to abortion. We can not push that type of president,” Clayton said. “We can push a president, though, that believes and cares about young people. We can do that. And that’s why I tell them, ‘You need to vote this year because you still want that.”

And the way that Clayton starts that conversation ranges from handing out flyers at the farmer’s market and politely asking people if they’re registered to vote, all the way to dancing in a giant inflatable eagle costume.

“She’s really doing it all,” Quentin Wathum-Ocama, the president of the Young Democrats of America said.

“I’ve been around long enough to see and I don’t know if there’s another comparable state party chair, anywhere in the country, to her. What she’s able to do and the energy that she’s able to bring,” Wathum-Ocama said.

Eve Levenson, the 24-year-old Director of Youth Engagement for the Biden-Harris re-election campaign, said that Clayton is a phenomenal surrogate.

“I think that having somebody who is so young and has been able to have that public platform… has been really inspiring to so many young people and I think will continue to be,” Levenson said. “Folks like Anderson are going to play a key role in helping us reach other young people.”

Obviously, Clayton is an anomaly – she became the youngest state party chair in the country when she was elected last year at just 25 years old. Meanwhile, most eligible Gen Z voters do not belong to a political party.

But Clayton empathises with their position because it took her a while to find her way to politics. She hails from the rural town of Roxboro, North Carolina and spent most of her life disengaged from either political party, accepting her Republican state and town as the status quo. It wasn’t until 2016 that she realised unified voters have the power to change anything after she watched Watauga County, another rural area of North Carolina, turn blue the same year Donald Trump won.

After graduating from college, and feeling inspired, Clayton moved back to her hometown to initiate similar change by helping flip the Roxboro City Council from red to blue.

“I could have changed it all along if I’d just looked at my backyard and gotten involved,” Clayton said.

Anderson Clayton, 26, catches up with her fellow young Democrats at the Young Democrats of North Carolina Convention
Anderson Clayton, 26, catches up with her fellow young Democrats at the Young Democrats of North Carolina Convention (Julia Saqui)

These days, she’s rallying a room of 300 young Democrats while running on just four hours of sleep, because she spent the night before giving yet another speech at the governor’s mansion.

In Clayton’s ideal world, her hard work will pay off and not only will Biden win the 2024 presidential election but North Carolina will flip blue. In 2020, Biden lost the state by roughly 75,000 votes. With more than eight million Gen Z voters newly eligible this year, Clayton hopes her energy can convince some of those in North Carolina to back Biden.

“If I didn’t believe that we could win, and I didn’t believe it down to my absolute core, I couldn’t do this job as effectively as I need to,” Clayton said. “That’s why I’m in this job. Because I believe that the Democratic Party right now is fundamentally the party that is speaking for the majority of Americans and the majority of North Carolinians at this moment in time.”

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