They’re teenagers taking a sales pitch door-to-door in Kanawha County, but they’re not pushing magazine subscriptions, candles or cookies.
Instead, they’re selling conservatism.
“We focus on politics and community service,” said Jordan Covelli, chairman of Moral Education, Coal, Healthcare Reform Teen Age Republicans, also known as “Mech Tars.”
Covelli, a senior at Charleston Catholic High School, started the teen Republican club in April. The group now has 15 members, mostly Charleston Catholic students.
For the past two months, Mech Tars members have gone door-to-door, taking surveys, promoting the West Virginia GOP and passing out campaign literature for Republican House candidates Brad White and Dr. Chris Stansbury.
“We’re focused on conservative values,” Covelli said. “We’re not a group that goes out to try to convert you. We want to raise people’s awareness of what’s going on in West Virginia, and how we can raise people’s status in the state.”
Mech Tars, an official auxiliary of the Republican Party, endorses candidates but doesn’t contribute money to GOP office-seekers, Covelli said. The group also seeks to unify Republican voters. “We’re not a tea party group,” said Covelli, who plays on Charleston Catholic’s baseball and golf teams. While most Mech Tars members attend Charleston Catholic, the group isn’t affiliated with the private school and doesn’t hold its meetings there, Covelli said.
West Virginia also has an organization for teens who back the Democratic Party — called the West Virginia High School Democrats, part of the National High School Democrats of America. The group doesn’t have a Kanawha County chapter, according to the former chairwoman of the state affiliate.
Daniel Van Hoogstraten, the West Virginia Democratic Party’s new communications director, called the West Virginia Young Democrats group a “thriving and extremely active” group.
“The West Virginia Young Dems hold trainings to better enable their members to make an impact on statewide and local races,” Van Hoogstraten said. “The major upcoming event for this year is the ‘55 in 55’ event. For this event, the West Virginia Young Democrats will do field work in all 55 counties in West Virginia in 55 hours over the course of one weekend.” That event will be in September or October, he said.
“What Democrats are putting forward is attractive to young people,” Van Hoogstraten said.
The Mech Tars group spends much of its time on community service projects, helping people with home repairs and volunteering with the Manna Meal soup kitchen in Charleston. On Oct. 4, Mech Tars plans to hold a 5K walk/run — “The Run to Recovery” — to raise money for the Wounded Warrior project, a national organization that helps disabled veterans. The event will take place in Fort Hill near the site of the former Fort Scammon.
Covelli said Mech Tars hopes to add members from other parts of the state.
State GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas said Republican candidates appreciate support from groups like Mech Tars. Covelli is now working as an intern at the state GOP headquarters.
“They’re a group of high school students who formed on their own,” Lucas said. “It’s very exciting for us to see this youth movement within the Republican Party because obviously young people are the future of our state.”
Staff writer Paul J. Nyden contributed to this report. Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.