How did you get your start in politics?
I interned for NBC in 1996 at the Republican National Convention. I was in high school and I wasn’t really involved in politics at the time. I went to the convention and realized that I was definitely not a Republican. In 1997, I went to UC Santa Barbara and become really active in Young Democrats. It was the year Congressman Walter Capps passed away, and since UCSB is such a dense population of young people, we were able to get our peers to vote by knocking on their doors and registering them and really doing all the things to get people interested.
How did you become the president of the California Young Democrats?
At UC Santa Barbara I was an activist, and then I came to Sacramento to be an Executive Fellow. My roommate found the Sacramento County Young Democrats and allowed me to come along to a meeting with her. I became a board member there and president of that chapter and ended up getting on the statewide board for California Young Democrats. Then I spent two terms as the president of the California Young Democrats. I was elected to be a board member of the Young Democrats of America, and I’m their national committee woman, so I’m a superdelegate.
The California Young Democrats said you “transformed the organization into a political powerhouse.” How did you go about doing this?
Well, we have followed the model of young people talking to their peers, and that’s a model that we have proven nationally to be effective. A lot of us have spent years working on campaigns, and I think the common thought is that a campaign is all about getting the easiest way to 50 plus one. But I think a lot of us have realized that when you are working for a party or when you’re an activist, you’re trying to think long term. Some people look at young voters and think that they can’t really talk to them because they’re unsure if they will vote for their candidate, but all the research we have done at Young Democrats of America has shown that two out of three young people will vote Democrat. If a young person votes for a Democrat three times, they’re going to be a Democratic voter for life. And as young people grow to be 25 percent of the electorate, we realize that we need to get a hold of this group of voters.
Sen. Barack Obama has seemed to capture a large portion of the youth vote. Do you think that there will still be a large young voter turnout if Sen. Clinton is the Democratic nominee?
Oh, definitely. If you look at California and Massachusetts on Super Tuesday, a lot of young people came out and voted for Hilary Clinton, and she fared better than Senator Obama. When you look at young people, they’re a unique group, especially when it comes to voting for these two presidential candidates. What we should be looking at is how many young people are coming out and how we can capture that group to make sure they stay with us in November. Seventy-five percent of young people don’t live on college campuses, so it’s important to realize that doing college outreach is great for your earned media and college students, but young people are everywhere.
As a superdelegate, are you getting phone calls from the presidential campaigns?
Yes, I have had my conversations with Chelsea Clinton and Senator Clinton, and on the Obama side I’ve been communicating a lot with staff. But (Arizona Governor Janet) Napolitano and I had a good conversation about why she was with Senator Obama.
You recently were named the political director of the California Democratic Party. How have you transitioned into your new role?
It’s been really exciting. As someone who has been a party activist — to be on this side of the wall is exciting. I really hope that I’ll be able to build the bridge, not just between activists and the California Democratic Party, but I also want to be able to use my network of friends and people I know in the Capitol and bring everyone together.
How does Crystal Strait escape the chaos of politics?
There’s an escape? Well, I try to go out with my friends and have drinks. But it’s definitely been pretty time-consuming for me. Sacramento has been good to me, but I’m pretty fond of going out and speaking to young voters and finding out what’s on their mind.