NEW YORK — "I voted for Barack Abooma!" bragged Davita Randall the other day. One should perhaps forgive the mispronunciation. After all, she and her brother Davin, also an "Abooma" enthusiast, are only in kindergarten.
No, they can't actually vote, but the Randall twins of Elk Grove, Calif., are excited about this election nonetheless. As is first-grader Alex Taylor, who discussed the race animatedly with his mother all the way to their New York City polling station on Super Tuesday — only to see Mom vote another way.
"I voted for Hillary Clinton," says Mom, aka Sandy Radnovich. "That wasn't his candidate. But I told him, this is what America is all about: free choice."
We already know young voters are showing interest and passion in this 2008 race. What many adults are noticing, though, is that such passion is also infecting much of the too-young-to-vote set, from teens on down, in ways rarely seen before.
And perhaps the Obama campaign should look into getting that pesky voting-age thing changed. Because, maybe not surprisingly, the youthful Illinois senator who's energized enormous crowds of young voters seems to have the affection of the much-younger crowd, too — at least in Democratic households.
"I've noticed a very, very strong interest on the part of supporters of Barack Obama," says school director Elizabeth Bergstein. "One kid's been campaigning for Obama for weeks." And she's really talking young: The students at her Broadway Presbyterian Church Nursery School, just south of Harlem in Manhattan, are 3 and 4.
Kids at her school, she says, "are very engaged in it."
The preschoolers even held a straw poll on Super Tuesday. The contest, meant to introduce kids to the idea of voting, was between SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and Bob the Builder. (SpongeBob won.)
In Alex Taylor's first-grade class in a nearby public school, a poll was taken for real candidates, and Obama won, Alex' mother says. Six students did vote for Clinton — all girls, she says. And if her son was disappointed in his mother's voting choice, well, at least he could identify with Dad, who voted for Obama.
But Clinton supporters can take heart from the carefully chosen words of 13-year-old Eyck Freymann, who is undecided but leaning toward Clinton, although he previously supported John Edwards.
"Edwards was really driving the policy," says Eyck, a confessed political junkie from Manhattan who blogs about current events on his own site, youngsentinel.com, when he's not occupied with eighth-grade matters. "He made universal health care an issue for all the candidates."
He feels this presidential race has attracted "unprecedented interest" from young people. He's also noticed that most kids he knows (admittedly, in liberal Manhattan) support Obama.
"I know kids even from moderate Republican households who are getting up early and handing out stickers for Obama," says Eyck. "I think they see incredible charisma," he explains. "And a man who speaks passionately, and seems authentic."
"It's smart for candidates to be kid friendly," notes Marty Kaplan, a former Democratic speechwriter and now a professor at USC's Annenberg School of Communications. "Arguably the environmental movement took off because kids convinced their parents to recycle."
Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki notes wryly that it could be the ages of her candidate's daughters — 6 and 9 — that "may attract more support from the under-10 crowd than his middle-class tax plan." But, she added in an e-mail to The AP, "kids can sense authenticity, and he is the candidate most committed to changing their futures for the better." (Spokesmen for the Clinton and McCain campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)
For Carolyn Solomon, the foster mother of twins Davita and Davin, one of the most exciting things about this presidential race is that "it's triggering something" in youngsters. "They are so hyped up and excited about this election," says Solomon, who also runs a daycare center, where she hears kids talk about the campaign.
And though the 6-year-olds spent the drive to the polling station on Super Tuesday chanting, "Barack, Barack," Solomon, 52, says her extended household is good-naturedly split "right down the middle" between the Democratic candidates.
"We all have our reasons," Solomon says. "It's what we feel in our heart." And no matter who becomes the nominee — the first black man, or the first woman — "it's all good," she says. "I want these boys and girls to learn that they can grow up and do something like this."