If Nick Carpenter was a gambler in Vegas, his poker face would beat the best of them. If only he was old enough to gamble.
The 19-year-old, dressed in a pressed white shirt and khakis, doesn't smile wide enough to reveal his teeth when we meet. But bring up his friend and senior prom date Natalie, and he lights up — flashing a glimpse of his blue braces.
"It's nice to have at least one person you can hang out with and you don't have to talk about politics with them," Carpenter said.
The 10th Congressional District — which includes Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Lincoln, and Mitchell counties — elected Carpenter as one of the three delegates to represent Cleveland County at the Democratic National Convention in September. The president of the Cleveland County Young Democrats, one of three vice chairs of the Cleveland County Democratic Party, and chairman of the 10th Congressional District of the Young Democrats, he is North Carolina's second-youngest delegate.
Four years ago, North Carolina's Young Democrats aimed to send four "youth" delegates, ages 18-36, to the DNC in Denver. This year, the organization exceeded its goal of 19 when 31 were elected.
His main responsibility during the three-day convention will be to help complete the 100-page party platform, the social and economic plan for the Democrats, in morning committee meetings. Each afternoon, he will find his seat on the convention floor to watch the proceedings. The grand finale will be electing President Obama as the Democratic candidate. When he is done with business, he says he will try to spot visiting celebrities, including Comedy Central comedian Jon Stewart, who is bringing his Daily Show to Charlotte for the convention.
He graduated from Shelby High School in May after balancing a full course load with his work in the Young Democrats. His classmates would ask him questions about politics — and tell him he would someday be president of the U.S.
"If there was an issue they thought of, they would just come ask me," Carpenter said. "That's how I got people involved."
As if Carpenter, an avid tennis player and instructor, didn't have enough on his plate, he will start college at Gardner-Webb University in the fall to study athletic training.
"I didn't want to major in political science, because I didn't just want to be good at Jeopardy," he said.
Carpenter started as an intern for then-Senator Obama's presidential campaign in 2008 and later rallied young people to vote against Amendment One, the marriage amendment to the state constitution that passed on May 8. In 2011, Carpenter's talent for organizing young voters caught the attention of Sam Spencer, president of the Young Democrats of North Carolina. Spencer encouraged Carpenter to become a leader for the Cleveland County Democrats and submit his application to be a DNC delegate. His election occurred on May 19 at the 10th Congressional District Democrats convention in Morganton, a high point in Carpenter's budding political career.
"We knew he was a hard worker, and a lot of the people in Cleveland County wanted him to be involved because they saw a lot of talent in him," Spencer said.
While Carpenter has many supporters in his hometown of Shelby he has also brushed against the more conservative side of his community. During a Young Democrats appearance at the Cleveland County Fair last year, two men jeered at him and several other teen Democrats, one even going as far as to unbutton his pants as he called him names. True to his cool and calm nature, Carpenter did not engage the hecklers.
"If they're just going to come up and yell and make rude comments, I just blow them off," Carpenter said. "You've got to do it or you'll get broke down really easy, especially in politics."
Carpenter has always dealt with conflict — his mom is a Republican and his dad is a Democrat. They divorced when Carpenter was born, and he moved with his dad to Shelby 16 years ago. His parents support his passion, which he says won't lead him to a career, just more rallying and organizing in his hometown.
"Some people volunteer at church or go to the homeless shelter," Carpenter said. "I feel that my beliefs in this party are the best way to help people, so I try and help get the people who feel the same way elected so they can get the laws passed that will make other people's quality of life better."
Carpenter won't get his braces off for another six months to a year, but his fellow Young Democrats members don't mind the metal. They say they are thrilled to have a young person engaged in politics, someone who can fit in with Democratic heavyweights, including Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Gov. Bev Perdue, on and off the convention floor.
He would find a way to get into the convention even if he wasn't a delegate.
"I would be directing traffic or parking cars, but I'd be there."