‘My youth is a strength’: Members of Gen Z launch campaigns for Congress

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Courtesy CNN

(CNN) — For the first time in 2022, members of Generation Z — those born after 1996 — could be elected to the US House of Representatives.

While Maxwell Frost, a Florida Democrat, and Karoline Leavitt, a New Hampshire Republican, stand on opposite sides of the political spectrum, the two share a common belief that it’s time to elect more young people to office.

With the midterm elections on the horizon, both Frost and Leavitt are ramping up their campaigns to be the first member of Gen Z in Congress.

“I’m running for what our generation really wants and is asking for,” said Frost, a 24-year-old gun violence prevention activist who spent the summer of 2020 on the frontlines of protests for racial justice following the death of George Floyd.

“We often talk about what we need to survive. I want to have a conversation about what we need to thrive,” said Frost, who previously served as the national organizing director for March For Our Lives — the gun violence prevention organization founded in the wake of the Parkland school shooting in 2018 — and as a field manager with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

“We shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not a trip to the hospital will bankrupt us, we shouldn’t fear gun violence and dying, and we deserve clean water,” he said.

Members of the House must be at least 25-years-old, according to the US Constitution.

Frost — who turns 25 in January, qualifying his run for office in 2022 — is running in Florida’s 10th Congressional District for the seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Val Demings. Demings, who won her House seat with 63.6% of the vote in 2020, earlier this year announced her run for US Senate.

Over 1,000 miles North, Leavitt, a 24-year-old conservative, is one of the Republicans vying to unseat Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas in New Hampshire’s 1st District. Pappas, first elected in 2018 at the age of 38, held his seat with 51.3% of the vote in 2020.

Leavitt — who will also turn 25 ahead of the midterms — says she’s running for the House, in part, to bring young voters into the Republican Party.

“We have people in Washington, DC, that have been clinging to power twice as long as I have been alive,” she said. “My youth is a strength and that is showing on the campaign trail already.”

Leavitt grew up scooping ice cream at her family’s local New Hampshire shop.

She told CNN that in addition to a desire to inspire young Republicans, she’s also running to protect small businesses, limit government regulation, lower taxes and “cut red tape.”

Leavitt, who identifies as a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, “law and order” and “strong borders,” said she was first introduced to politics as a student at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.

After graduating in 2019, she worked as an assistant press secretary in the Trump White House under press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, and following the 2020 election, she served as communications director for GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who, when she was elected in 2014 at age 30, was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Earlier this year, Stefanik became the No. 3 Republican in the House, ousting Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney as GOP conference chair.

Now, Leavitt says, it’s her turn to throw her hat in the ring.

“The Republican Party needs to support, recruit and encourage young candidates because we are losing with young voters,” she said.

Both Leavitt and Frost acknowledged that young Americans leaned to the left in the 2020 general election.

Though half of young people ages 18-29 voted in 2020 according to research from Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts (CIRCLE), 60% of that age group cast a ballot for President Joe Biden, while only 36% voted for former President Donald Trump, according to CNN’s 2020 exit polls.

Biden carried both of the congressional districts Leavitt and Frost are hoping to represent.

Frost said he believes young people voted for Biden “for specific reasons.”

“They want good infrastructure, good union jobs, and they understand that the climate crisis is happening now,” he said. “Young folks want to progress, they don’t want to regress.”

For her part, Leavitt believes her campaign has the potential to persuade young voters.

“Our campaign has the ability to change minds of younger voters,” she added. “We need to start that work now. We cannot wait another cycle or we will continue to lose as Republicans.”

Leavitt plans to host in-person town halls on college campuses, she said, with a goal of engaging in open dialogue with young voters.

“I believe if we can have that in-person dialogue, our conservative policies and view point will win and we have the power and ability to change their minds,” she said, citing “individual liberty,” lessening government spending, and “ending the cycle of career politicians that are completely out of touch with future generations of Americans” as conservative issues young voters can get behind.