Two Students Strive For Delegate Seats At National Conventions
Ryan Belz is a senior and an aspiring weather anchor.
“I’ve been wanting to be an on-camera meteorologist since the second grade,” Belz said.
Belz is also involved in student government, where he’s discovered another passion: politics. His experience with politics has prepared him for his most recent endeavor. Belz is running this election season to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention.
He’s running against 13 other Republican delegate candidates hoping to represent the 10th Congressional District. But he believes there’s a bit of luck on his side.
“I actually was selected as number one," said Belz. "I’ll be the first person on the ballot, so hopefully that’s a little incentive, maybe.”
Pennsylvania has 71 Republican delegates available. Seventeen of those go directly to the candidate who wins the state. But each of the 18 Congressional Districts in Pennsylvania elects three more delegates, who can represent any candidate they choose. So if elected, Belz would not be officially bound to anyone specifically, though he personally supports Donald Trump.
Belz says that sometimes campaigning can be hard while juggling classes, too.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s quite difficult," Belz said. "So, the experience of student government here, running campaigns I think is what has helped me and given me that will to want to run as the delegate.”
Belz’s hometown, Millerton, is in Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, which does not include Penn State or Centre County. So he travels home most weekends to campaign and gets help from friends and family.
“Having to be here during the week with classes and then going home to try to campaign at the same time," said Belz, "[I have to be] able to effectively manage my time between both, so I can still do good in my classes but also hopefully get elected as well.”
During his campaign, Belz has found that he’s in the minority when it comes to being politically active.
“The thing that really struck me, going around, is the number of people who aren’t registered to vote," said Belz. "I found that quite interesting. Everybody complains, ‘Oh, I don’t like this about the government, oh I don’t like this.’ Why aren’t you registered to vote so you have a say going forward?”
Belz isn’t the only Penn State student running in this election. Ryan Valencia is a senior studying international politics and history at Penn State. Valencia hopes to become a delegate for the Democratic National Convention, which he describes as "a once in a lifetime opportunity."
"I couldn’t even imagine being there with the thousands of people that are going to be filling the halls in Philadelphia,” said Valencia.
The Democratic National Convention awards delegates differently than Republicans do in Pennsylvania. Valencia is running to represent Hillary Clinton in the 5th Congressional District, which has five Democratic delegates up for grabs.
In the primary, the more votes Clinton gets, the more Clinton-affiliated delegates will be sent to the convention.
“The proportion would be representative of what the vote was within the actual district,” Valencia said.
So most of Valencia’s campaigning is for a specific candidate, rather than for himself. But as a millennial Latino candidate, Valencia hopes to represent his diverse background at the Democratic Convention.
“I just want to make sure that the voice of a millennial, the newly-largest block of any voters is represented," said Valencia. "That my community, the Latino community, is represented in Pennsylvania. I just want to make sure that we have a wide array of perspectives that are being represented at the [Democratic National Convention].”
While the two have differing political views, Valencia agrees with Belz that balancing roles as a student and a candidate can be a lot of work.
“Most of the ‘get out the vote’ efforts take place in the middle of the day," said Valencia, "or somewhat late in the evening. But, you know, you have classes, you have homework, and then you have to worry about getting out there for a few hours.”
While their careers may not be in politics, these Penn State students believe the experience of running as a delegate candidate will impact the rest of their lives. The two will continue campaigning until the Pennsylvania primary, which takes place April 26.