When Roxy Ndebumadu, a Black conservative woman, ran for city council in Bowie, Maryland, at age 26, it was hard to find mentorship from elected officials of similar backgrounds.
“My, I guess you would say, makeup is very unique,” Ndebumadu told CNN.
“There are just not a lot of young women who are elected. There are not a lot of Black women who are elected, and there are not a lot of conservative young Black women who are elected or seeking to run for office,” she said.
Now Ndebumadu, who was first elected to the city council in 2019, is trying to change that reality.
She, along with a number of other young conservatives, are working with Run GenZ, an organization co-founded in 2020 by Iowa state Rep. Joe Mitchell to recruit, mentor and train young conservatives running for office in down-ballot races.
Ahead of 2022, Mitchell says, Run GenZ will focus heavily on candidates for state legislature races in Texas, Florida and Iowa. So far, the group has received 283 applications across 48 states.
Mitchell, a Republican first elected to the state legislature in 2018 at age 21, said he aims to recruit a bench of young conservative leaders who are more reflective of the areas they are looking to represent.
“We understand (that) if we don’t reach out, if we don’t have a variety of candidates running, we’re not going to be able to fare well in the future as we’re trying to compete with an ever growing diverse population here in the US,” he said.
In 2021, Run GenZ supported 15 candidates for down-ballot offices, 12 of whom won their races.
While the organization recruits candidates through different ways, its most fruitful recruitment effort has been speaking to chapters of youth groups such as College Republicans, Young Republicans and Turning Point USA – the right-wing organization closely tied to former President Donald Trump.
Yet, Run GenZ says it is not beholden to any wing of the Republican Party and is willing to work with any candidate who believes in the conservative values of “limited government, free market capitalism, individual responsibility and fiscal restraint.”
To boost its recruitment, Run GenZ recently partnered with Snapchat, the social media app popular among young Americans, as part of the app’s “Run For Office” feature – an in-app civic tool to help young people run for office up and down the ballot. According to Run GenZ, 2,925 people have expressed interest in the organization through Snapchat’s tool.
‘Saving democracy should not be a single party fight’
Democrats have in recent years also ramped up efforts to recruit a bench of candidates at the state and local level. In 2021 alone, Run For Something, a PAC that supports young progressives running for state and local office, has had nearly 25,000 people express interest in running for office with the organization. Like Run GenZ, Run For Something is one of the candidate recruitment organizations included in the Snapchat tool.
Amanda Litman, who co-founded Run For Something in 2017 and is the executive director of the organization, said “one of the benefits” the Republican Party has had for years over Democrats is a “longstanding infrastructure” focused on supporting state-level candidates.
While Democrats may be more public in their recruitment efforts, Litman said Republican efforts down ballot have been “stronger, better funded and more sustained.”
Asked about Run GenZ’s mission to recruit more young conservative candidates to run in down-ballot races, Litman expressed optimism.
“I think the more the merrier in getting young people to run,” Litman said. “I am always really adamant that saving democracy cannot just be a singular party project, and I hope that what Run GenZ is focusing on is finding Republicans who are committed to the same pro-democracy values. Saving democracy should not be a single party fight.”
‘Young people are going to inherit this place so let them be heard early on’
A key part of Mitchell’s vision includes a mentorship program that seeks to connect young elected officials with up-and-coming candidates. The organization hopes to formally provide 50 candidates with mentors by next year.
In 2021, Run GenZ paired Jalen Johnson, who at the time was running for city commissioner in Albany, Georgia, with Ebo Entsuah, a city councilman in Clermont, Florida, as well as Roman Garcia, who was running for city council in Kerrville, Texas, with Joel Castro, a city councilman in Alvin, Texas.
Reflecting on the pairing, Johnson said that in addition to teaching the importance of door knocking, Entsuah gave him advice on how to deal with racially charged rhetoric, such as what to do when someone asks how he can be “young and Black and a conservative.”
“People have called me names because I’m not the illustration of what they want to see in a candidate,” Entsuah said, adding that he told Johnson that while “there are a lot of days where you get heckled and people call you names,” it is necessary to “realize that you do have your residents’ and your constituents’