When Farmington native Riju Das, 29, graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2004 with a double major in political science and journalism, he wanted to be the next Wolf Blitzer.
While he’s not a political pundit yet — he’d like to have his own cable news show someday — another dream of his is coming true.
Next week, he’ll head to the Democratic National Convention as a Connecticut delegate from the Fifth District. The convention runs next Tuesday to Thursday.
“I think everyone’s looking forward to President Obama’s acceptance speech,” Das said.
Das, who began doing outreach work in Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office a couple months ago, said that historically incumbents have a good chance of being re-elected if they are endorsed to run for another term without any challenges.
“Conventions of late have primarily been formalities because it’s been a long time since an incumbent has been challenged at their conventions,” Das said.
The Democratic National Convention, “one of the most exclusive political events,” is an opportunity to network, Das said. Delegates like Das usually “live and breathe day-to-day politics.” They are the type of people who post links to political stories often on social media and will debate politics with family and friends “who have not seen the light.”
“That’s how excited you are to be part of the process,” he said.
Experience, campaign and party fundraising success, and diversity are just some of the factors considered when the Democratic party reviews delegate applications, Das said.
Both parties will focus on gaining the support of unaffiliated voters on the presidential campaign trail, particularly in the 10 swing states of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, Das said.
Jobs and the economy will probably be the central issue in this election, said Das, who worked in the private sector at AT&T in sales and marketing after college.
While working for the chair of the Appropriations Committee in the state House of Representatives in 2009, Das will never forget one call he fielded in the office. A man told him he was concerned that if the New Britain branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles closed, he would lose business. Das said that story showed him how government investment can create jobs.
He praised Obama for bailing out the auto industry, which he said saved millions of jobs. Das also said that Obama’s goal to cap the interest on student loans and focus on education reform is important. Das himself also has an MBA from UConn in finance and management.
“You can’t have a successful economy without an educated work force,” he said.
Das said that he received an $8,000 tax credit for purchasing his first home in Farmington thanks to the Obama administration.
One of reasons Das got into politics was his grandfather’s admiration for the Clintons. When former President Bill Clinton speaks at the national convention, his perspective as the “last president to balance the budget” will be valuable, according to Das. He said Obama will likely use similar methods to lift the country out of the “Great Recession,” which could take more than three-and-a-half years to fix.
“If you take care of people at the bottom, the wealth trickles up,” Das said.
Sandra Fluke — the Georgetown University law student who Rush Limbaugh publicly criticized for her views on contraception and health care — will address Democrats at the national convention, Das said.
“She’ll be representing an interesting voice at this year’s convention,” Das said, noting that politician’s stances on health care, contraception and abortion rights could sway independent women voters.
Women’s rights and health care came to the forefront after the Limbaugh controversy. They are in the spotlight again after Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, of Missouri, recently told KTVI in St. Louis that he believed it was rare for a woman to become pregnant from “legitimate rape.” Das called the comments “among the most offensive” he’s heard in awhile.
CNN reported that Amanda Henneberg, a spokeswoman for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, made a statement after Akin’s comment aired that they "would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.” While Das questions their genuine stance on abortion, he said it is a polarizing issue nonetheless for the country that will be important to women voters.
“Mothers of young girls don’t want to hand their own individual liberty and control to the government,” Das said.
Das, who said that embryonic stem cell research is one of the most important issues to him, refers to Democrats as the “party of science.” His father, a UConn Health Center researcher, received a state grant Chris Murphy put through as a state senator in 2006 that funded stem cell research there.
You can follow his tweets at the national convention @RijuDas.