The New Philadelphia Times Reporter

July 28, 2004

Sarah's Pledge: Youngest delegate makes big splash

Copley News Service

BOSTON As the youngest delegate at the Democratic National Convention, Sarah Bender has been thrust into the middle of the action as few others have.

Unlike most here, she already has met Sen. John F. Kerry, the soon to be Democratic presidential candidate, whom she introduced during a campaign event at Perry High near Canton, O., last month.

Newspapers, television and radio stations from around the nation and even the British Broadcasting Corp. have besieged her for interviews.

Bender, who turns 18 just 12 days before the Nov. 2 election, also has been tapped to deliver the Pledge of Allegiance at the opening of Wednesdays convention sessions.

Im so excited, said Bender, whose father, Greg Bender of Strasburg, also is a delegate. Im just kind of like how did I get this lucky? Its a little bit overwhelming. Its a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The Medina High senior was trying to repress yawns during a delegate breakfast Monday.

Im working on four hours of sleep, said Bender, who already had given an interview that morning at the FleetCenter where the convention is being held. The night before, she participated in an MTV Rock the Vote event that also featured children of Kerry and his running mate John Edwards and other celebrities.

Tired as she was, Bender was alert for an impassioned speech delivered by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights hero who implored the Ohio delegates to persevere in their efforts to unseat President Bush.

Dont get lost in the sea of despair, said Lewis, who recalled being beaten and left for dead during the Freedom Rides in the 1960s. Keep the faith, he added.

Its so cool that hes done so much, Bender said. Its impressive he led such a life. His whole life has been about our country and helping people.

Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon, also spoke at the breakfast, along with former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland and actor Richard Dreyfuss.

CNN has just announced that there is a village in Texas that is missing its idiot, said Strickland in an obvious reference to Bush.

Cleland stressed the importance of Ohio in the election.

It is the state in which this election will be determined, he said. George Bush cannot win the presidency without winning Ohio.

Dreyfuss, a longtime Democratic activist, took issue with Republicans who have criticized Kerry for voting against an $87 billion request to finance U.S. troops in Iraq after he earlier supported the intervention.

He believed and trusted the president of the United States and then he learned, Dreyfuss said of Kerry. He changed his mind with cause. That is what an adult does. That is what we teach our children to do.

Young as she is, Bender is no political novice. She traces her political initiation to the age of 1 or 2 when her father, a member of the Tuscarawas County Board of Elections, began taking her along on campaign outings.

Ive always gone to different things with my dad, she said. Ive done numerous fund-raisers with him, parades, putting up signs.

Greg Bender, an automotive recycler who was a delegate for Bill Clinton in 1996, said the experience of serving as a delegate with his daughter is without a doubt the highlight of my political life.

The daughter also credits her mother, a social worker, for her interest in public policy.

Bender has a streak of independence. Her father ran as a delegate for Edwards during the primary season, and she chose not to follow suit. Instead, she researched the candidates over the Internet and decided to run as a delegate for Kerry.

He views the world the same way I do, she said of the Massachusetts senator.

Her father said hes encouraged his children to think for themselves.

Bender said the two most important issues to her are keeping jobs in Ohio and increasing federal funding of higher education.

Father and daughter are delegates from different congressional districts. Greg Bender lives in the 18th District, where Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, is the congressman. Sarah Bender is a delegate from the 16th District, which is represented by Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township.