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Politics is still his primary thrill

ORANGE COUNTY

The last time I talked to Gustavo Delgado he had just picked up the keys to his entry into big-time politics. It was the second week in January, and he was about to open the new headquarters for the Barack Obama presidential campaign in Orange County.

Delgado was full of fire and youthful optimism, because he was making his debut as a political pro. Yes, he was getting a paycheck, although Delgado makes it clear he would have worked for free. On the day Delgado and I talked, Obama was still basking from his win in the Iowa caucuses the week before, and New Hampshire voters were trekking to the polls.

Is it just me, or does early January seem like about three winters ago instead of 3 1/2 months? That can turn a starry-eyed political neophyte into a raging cynic, and that’s what I wanted to ask Delgado -- whether Obama’s rise and sputter and possible fall since those heady January days had disillusioned him.

After all, you know how moody 18-year-olds can be.

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“It does seem like it’s been forever ago,” Delgado says. “It’s amazing how fast it goes and how slow it goes at the same time. Thirty days in the office seemed like three or four months.”

Enough to sour a young man on politics? “Being cynical doesn’t get you anywhere,” Delgado says. “We can take cynicism and turn it into action, instead of disillusionment and apathy.”

The Obama operation ended after the California primary Feb. 5. That was long before any of us had heard of Rev. Jeremiah Wright or contemplated whether any presidential candidate’s minister could sink a campaign.

I figured it would be 50-50 whether Delgado had already seen enough to convince him to quit politics forever. Turns out, it’s not even a close call.

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Getting involved, he says, has jazzed him even more than when he first dipped a toe into the water. “That sense of ownership, of being able to accomplish something -- it makes me want to see what else I can do,” he says. “I think we proved [during the primary campaign] we could get a lot accomplished.”

Hillary Clinton trounced Obama in the Democratic primary in Orange County, but they basically split the delegate count. The standard 12- to 14-hour workdays invigorated him, Delgado says, even as they proved challenging. Primary election night provided every bit the rush he’d hoped for. “It was exciting to be in the office, feeding off the energy. Everyone was excited. It was definitely a proud moment to step back and watch what was happening.”

Delgado came up through Anaheim elementary schools and graduated from Cypress High School. He’s a student at Cypress College, majoring in political science and international relations.

Many Obama supporters have been indignant about what they see as obsessive media coverage of Obama’s associations with Wright and a long-ago 1960s radical, but Delgado is even-keeled about it.

“I think it’s just the way it goes,” he says, “but since you mentioned him, the people I’ve talked to, after watching Wright speak, are stepping back and looking at the whole issue in a light that’s more favorable to Obama.”

That may take some doing, but I admire his refusal to automatically use the Wright matter as an excuse to tune out.

“I’m still pretty excited about the process,” Delgado says. “As a political person, I understand it. But as a supporter, it’s been frustrating because we were almost there a couple times.”

Delgado will be a delegate at the party’s national convention in Denver. Part of him appreciates the potential excitement of a nomination still up for grabs then, but he quickly adds: “As excited as I’d be, I’d rather have Obama have it wrapped up at that point.”

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In the meantime, he’s working on an Orange County congressional candidate’s campaign and says he hopes to run for office someday.

So, in a time when so many people are turned off by politics, I ask if he pictures that happening to him.

“I don’t think so,” he says, “and you can hold me to it.”

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com.

An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.


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