How to get a place at the convention

DENVER — In a hotel ballroom here last week, David Broockman ’11 found his name on the tally sheet placed before him. He picked up a pen, thumbed over the right column and notched a simple checkmark. Then he signed his name.

With that swirl of the pen, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois came one vote closer to securing the Democratic nomination for president. It may have amounted to little more than a technicality, but for the Jonathan Edwards College sophomore, casting a vote as a delegate at his party’s convention was the climax of a quest four years in the making.

David Broockman ’11 served as a Texas delegate at the Democratic National Convention last week. At 19 years old, he was the state’s youngest delegate.
Chris Young
David Broockman ’11 served as a Texas delegate at the Democratic National Convention last week. At 19 years old, he was the state’s youngest delegate.

“It was actually a pretty powerful experience,” he said this week.

It wasn’t all that was powerful for the 19-year-old Broockman, who returned to Yale on Friday after spending five days here as Texas’s youngest delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Sitting on the convention floor as former U.S. President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 reunited his party by sheer oratorical will was powerful. So was sitting some 50 feet away from Obama at Invesco Field on Thursday as the junior senator from Illinois accepted the Democratic nomination for president. So, too, was tripping and falling flat on the floor while walking behind CNN’s Wolf Blitzer as he broadcast from the convention floor.

“It really is something amazing to have all the political talent in the country in one place, talking to voters,” Broockman said. “Whoever it is who runs for president next was absolutely in that room. To just be in the room knowing that really the future of the country was there with us, it really gave me an overriding sense of hope.”

The kind of hope, one could say, that inspired Broockman to run for delegate in the first place. A volunteer for the campaign of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in 2004, Broockman attended the convention in Boston as a visitor four years ago. He didn’t want it to be his last.

“He called me and said, ‘I’m going to be back there as a delegate in 2008,’ ” recalled Glen Maxey, a former Texas state representative and mentor to Broockman.

So the political-science major got to work, mounting a campaign to win a place here in Denver. From his dorm room in Farnam Hall, he drafted campaign letters and launched a Web site. He ordered stickers and refrigerator magnets. He put Tyco Copy Shop to work.

His dormmates got to see a real-life campaign headquarters spring up before their eyes. When Thanh Tran ’11 ran into him in Farnam, Broockman would somehow always be on the phone.

Not socializing, of course, Tran said, but talking up his campaign to another Texan. “It was pretty intense,” she said.

But Broockman saw good reason for his efforts. His platform: He could speak up — eloquently — for Obama’s youth supporters, whom the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 — in Broockman’s mind, at least — was criticizing as a bunch of knee-buckling, Paris Hilton-worshipping fanboys.

“You need someone at the national convention who can talk to the media, who can say, ‘Here’s a message, we’re not just all screaming, infatuated people,’ ” Broockman said he told potential supporters.

But the campaign didn’t end when the school year did. Back in Austin, Tex., Broockman knocked on the doors of all 330 state delegates who had a vote at the state convention. He didn’t skip a single one; after all, with 60 people vying for five spots, he needed all the help he could get.

“His was probably the best-run delegate campaign that I’ve ever seen,” Maxey said. “There were state legislators and party activists who had been around for 30, 40 years, all running for these positions. And the fact that he won it pretty handily says a lot about his abilities.”

So off to the Mile High City Broockman went. He attended caucuses during the day and, as promised, gave interviews to media outlets ranging from the Dallas Morning News to the Los Angeles Times to the Austin American-Statesman.

It was, in a sense, a reality check, too, as he realized “the reason that we have national conventions, more than anything, basically, is to make good television,” as Broockman put it. “You really do get the sense that the reason you’re there is to play to the cameras,” he said.

Not that Broockman is complaining. Back on campus, the Liberal Party member in the Yale Political Union says he’s ready to work even harder to help put Obama in the White House. His enthusiasm is hardly a secret: Where some might hang posters of rock stars or favorite movies, Broockman’s suite is wallpapered with campaign placards.

In other words, Broockman is fired up and ready to go. And he has his experience here, in part, to thank.

“Being a student, it’s very easy to lose sight of what you’re fighting for,” he said. “You can say anyone can change the world, but to really be there and see this guy” — Obama — “who 10 years ago was just a law professor and had a good idea and understood what needed to be said. … That was something.”

Catherine Cheney contributed reporting. Contact Thomas Kaplan at thomas.kaplan@yale.edu 

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