September 4, 2004
His friends call him "Eddie," but on the ballot he’s Edward Z. Ableser.
"’Edward’ was an attempt to make me sound older," said the 26-year-old Democratic candidate for the Arizona House of Representatives.
Ableser, vying for the District 17 seat, which includes Tempe and south Scottsdale, is one of several candidates in their 20s running state and federal campaigns in the East Valley.
Craig Stritar, 27, is a Libertarian running for the 6th Congressional District, which includes parts of Apache Junction, Chandler, Mesa and Queen Creek. Elizabeth Rogers, 25, is a Democrat running for the 5th Congressional District, which includes parts of Tempe and Scottsdale.
The minimum age to qualify is 25.
The three struggle with creating a public image for themselves, finding funding and being seen for their issues rather than their age.
When he’s out campaigning, people will occasionally ask Ableser how old he is. He has a canned response.
"I joke. I always say, ‘26 . . . and a half,’" he said. "Everyone that’s commented on age has always said something positive, like that’s what we need."
Ableser and the other two candidates think they have good shots at getting elected. But one of his Republican opponents, former state Rep. Laura Knaperek, 49, of Tempe, is critical of Ableser’s youth.
"Age breeds experience, by the way," she said. "I think (experience is) extremely important, but I don’t think the Legislature should be all older."
Knaperek supports diverse representation in state and federal government.
"There’s a wide range of people in this country," said Rogers, the youngest of the candidates, "and Congress should reflect that."
Of the three, Ableser has the most money. He’s funded primarily through Arizona Clean Elections, which gives state candidates more than $11,000 for primary bids and almost $17,000 for the general election.
As candidates for federal seats, the others have to raise money the old-fashioned way. Rogers gets her funding from individual contributors. Stritar gets much of his from "The L Factor," a committee to enter Libertarian candidates in Arizona races.
Money isn’t everything, though, said Scottsdale-based political strategist Bob Grossfeld, and young candidates can win races without having much.
"(One) thing is to use the resources that they have and be inventive," Grossfeld said. Other life experiences can play to the candidates’ advantage.
Rogers used to have a job making phone calls in the health care industry, so now her staff calls home after home to campaign.
Last year as an Arizona State University student, Stritar made the news by launching an initiative to keep Arizonans out of a military draft.
"We rely more on activism and basically stuff that will make the news," Stritar said.
Although they have financial struggles, Grossfeld said the young candidates have some natural advantages over their elders.
On one August day, as the temperature peaked at 105 degrees, Ableser was in a north Tempe neighborhood, walking door-to-door, introducing himself.
Campaigns are "like cramming for finals for four months straight," Grossfeld said. "If (young candidates) have presumably more energy than people in their 50s, then great, use that."
By his count, Ableser hits 75 homes on a weekday, speaking to about 35 people who answer their doors. On a weekend, he’ll hit 300 homes a day and speak to 80 or 90 people. Much of this was during the summer months.
Young candidates have idealism on their side, too.
"It’s typical for young people to be more idealistic than older people," Grossfeld said, "and heaven help us if that ever changes."
By keeping idealism in politics, he said, it’s healthy for the system.
"A young person represents someone who’s not tainted. They’re not corrupted. They’re not disillusioned to some extent," Ableser said. "They still have their ideals and hopefully that doesn’t die once I get elected."
Rogers is the only candidate of the three who could get bumped from the race in Tuesday’s primary. Regardless of the outcome, Rogers said she will continue politicking, whether it’s another run for office or campaigning for one of her big issues — universal health care.
Ableser said if he loses the general election, he plans to be back.
"Well, it sets me up, in my opinion, as the prime candidate for two years from now," Ableser said. "All the work that I’ve done this year, the whole year, is the groundwork for my next election."
Young East Valley candidates
• Edward Ableser, 26, Democratic candidate for state House District 17; ASU doctoral student
• Colby Bower, 28, Republican candidate for state House District 18; 1997 ASU graduate
• Jeff Dial, 28, Republican candidate for state House District 20; 2004 ASU graduate
• Elizabeth Rogers, 25, Democratic candidate for 5th Congressional District; Rio Salado Community College student through spring 2004
• Craig Stritar, 27, Libertarian candidate for 6th Congressional District; 2004 ASU graduate