Finally of age, Gen Z candidates are running for Congress

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The average age of the current US Congress is 59 – the oldest in history. But members of Generation Z, the oldest of whom is 25, are ready to change that.

“I didn’t run to be the first Generation Z member of Congress. I ran to serve my community,” says Maxwell Alejandro Frost, 25, the Democratic nominee for Florida’s 10th congressional district.

“But being the first member of Generation Z is an important part of the story. And I think it really shows that our country is hopefully moving in a direction where we want our representative bodies to be really representative of the country, yes, in ethnicity, but also in age and experience,” he says. .

Frost, who is running in a staunch Democratic district, is favored to win in November.

“I’ve been organized for the past 10 years and am of the generation that has had more school shootings than fire drills,” says Frost. And that’s really the perspective I’m bringing to Congress. It’s the urgency around these issues.”

Democratic congressional candidate Maxwell Alejandro Frost in an undated photo provided by Maxwell Alejandro Frost for the congressional campaign.

In New Hampshire, 25-year-old Caroline Levitt heads into the general election. The former Trump White House staffer, who won the Republican nomination from New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district, is hoping to flip the seat currently held by Democrat Chris Pappas.

If she wins in November, Levitt, an anti-abortion conservative who said the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, would become the youngest elected member of Congress.

“I ran this race with no name recognition, no money, however [with] “Passion and drive to fight for my home state of New Hampshire against the Democratic Socialists who are destroying our country,” Levitt said after winning the Republican primary on Sept. 13. The Washington establishment and the Democrats have certainly excluded us. They said I was too young, [that] We can never raise money to compete.”

Once in positions of power, says Samuel Abrams, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Generation Z — people born between 1997 and 2012 — may prove to be a moderating force in American politics.

says Abrams, who is also a political professor at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

“We see quite a few very younger people competing, which worries me a bit, but in theory…if there is actual participation, I would expect to finally see a moderate force in the parties.”

Republican congressional candidate Caroline Levitt greets people during the Get Out the Vote rally in Londonderry, New Hampshire, September 8, 2022.

Republican congressional candidate Caroline Levitt greets people during the Get Out the Vote rally in Londonderry, New Hampshire, September 8, 2022.

Democratic leadership is currently dominated by people in their 70s and 80s. President Joe Biden is 79, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 82 and Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader, is 83.

says Jennifer Victor, associate professor of political science at George Mason University in Virginia. “But then, when it comes down to it, and you actually vote on who is driving, they just fall right back into old habits.”

However, younger members of Congress, like Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are finding other ways to stand out.

“When you look at members like Ocasio-Cortez, they may not be in leadership, but they are playing a leadership role in a number of ways in terms of representing the party, being on the national stage, giving younger voters someone to choose,” says Tom Bonnier, a Democratic strategist and CEO of TargetSmart, a company. Data and opinion polls, “to consider identifying the party.”

Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate.  From left: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 82, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, 71, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 80, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, 57, in a 2021 photo.

Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate. From left: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 82, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, 71, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 80, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, 57, in a 2021 photo.

Republicans were quick to embrace the young leaders. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is 57, while Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House, is 38. Republican Paul Ryan was 45 when he was sworn in as Speaker of the House in 2015.

“I think the Republican Party, whether small or large, tends to have more similar principles,” says Abrams. “They have created a phenomenon, what I would call it [a] Deep seat for younger people. … The Republican Party, or interests allied to it, have, over the past decade or so, worked hard to create organizations that really nurture this talent.”

The general lack of youth representation in Congress may be a reason why young voters did not show up strongly in the last midterm elections in 2018.

People between the ages of eighteen and 29 made up 20% of the population as a whole, but made up only 11% of the electorate. For example, residents over the age of 65 make up 31% of the electorate even though they only represent 13% of the population,” says Victor. “This distribution…is disproportionate to the population as a whole, and so it creates real inequalities when it comes to representation and policymaking.”

According to Victor, there are a number of reasons young people don’t vote, including because they tend to be more trans, are often away from college, aren’t familiar with taxes and don’t have as much interaction with government — all of which make the election seem less important. for them.

But having candidates closer in age and experience, like Frost and Leavitt, could have an impact.

“They will have the ability to make this generation feel more connected to the process, and see voting or running for office as a way to actually get involved in the things they care about. Because at this point, I don’t think they do that most of the time,” Bonnier says.

Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke encourages students to get out and vote during a visit to the University of Texas at Austin on September 26, 2022.

Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke encourages students to get out and vote during a visit to the University of Texas at Austin on September 26, 2022.

One of the challenges Gen Z faces is finding its voice in a rapidly changing environment.

“It’s not entirely clear if Generation Z will develop a political voice here. I think they want to. But I think one of the things to note is that as parties are weaker, and because social media spreads things out, fundraising has changed, and the way we do it has changed.” Politics is run by it,” Abrams says. “But one thing I would say for sure is that with social media, a person can get up really fast.”

Meanwhile, Frost, who says he drove for delivery company Uber to make ends meet while running for Congress, would like to see greater public representation in the House of Representatives.

“I will do everything I can to get others elected,” he says. “Yes, young people, but also people of all ages who come from working-class backgrounds. I think it is important that we have a Congress that looks like the country.”

Many of America’s Founding Fathers were the same age as General Zers when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.

James Monroe, who later became president, was 18 years old, while the other future president, James Madison, was 25. Alexander Hamilton was 21 years old, and a future vice president [and eventual Hamilton killer] Aaron Burr was twenty years old.

All of which means that if Frost and Levitt make it to Congress, they will follow a tradition of American leadership as old as the nation itself.

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