Floyd Burton did not want to tell me where he was from.
It was 11 p.m. on the night of the New York primary, and we were standing in the lobby of the nondescript Manhattan hotel where Hillary Clinton had just delivered her victory speech. Burton, who was wearing three stickers for her campaign on his beige sweater vest, was pacing the cordoned off area by the exits, trying to catch a glimpse of the candidate before she left the building.
“I’m here for Hillary,” he told me, eyes moving from me to the front of the line and back to me again.
But he went quiet after I asked him where he lived. Which, to his credit, was a reasonable response. I was a stranger, and Burton was nine years old.
“It’s OK, you can tell her,” his father, Jose, told him. “You can say we’re from Brooklyn.”
Burton had come out that night, like a not insignificant number of other little kids I saw who were years off from being able to cast a ballot, to see Clinton. Because they lived nearby. Because their parents wanted to go. Because they wanted to see the Secret Service and road blocks and campaign spectacle up close.
And because Hillary Clinton was a girl.
What in many adult circles has become politically unutterable (or at least socially ~embarrassing~)—expressing any kind of earnest excitement about the historic nature of a woman in the White House—was very much on the minds of the kids I talked to Tuesday night.
As one 12-year-old explained in a simple but not inaccurate history lesson: “Since the early ages of George Washington and everything, women have been in the shadows. And now women are finally breaking through, and it’s time for a girl president.”
Sunil Santry, nine and from Massachusetts, seemed to agree. He had a campaign sticker covering half of his face and was gripping the rope line excitedly while we talked. He liked Clinton, he said, “because she has experience."
And because "she would be our first female president,” he added, a little breathless. When I asked him why he thought no women had been elected to the presidency yet, he offered, soberly, and again, pretty accurately: "Um, rights and stuff."
I asked him one thing he’d like to see happen if Clinton were elected president. He paused for a moment to think. “Make people who are 16-years-old vote,” he said, pushing at the sticker on his cheek.
Santry, who was visiting with his family in Manhattan, had been watching primary returns on MSNBC with his aunt when he noticed that Clinton was set to speak just a few blocks away.
“He said that Hillary was at the Sheraton and he wanted to come here,” Reshma Patel, Santry’s aunt, told me. “He loves presidential trivia. When he was seven he told me, ‘Auntie, I think we need to have a woman president. Do you know we’ve never had a woman president?’ So he’s been on the Hillary bandwagon for a while now.”
I was initially skeptical that it had been Santry's idea to come to the Sheraton. Like, what child wants to stand in a hotel lobby in the hopes of seeing Hillary Clinton's entourage make a hasty exit? But I abandoned my doubts when Santry abruptly ended our interview because he saw Andrea Mitchell, an anchor on NBC News, coming down the stairs into the lobby. “Can we take a picture,” he asked his aunt, bouncing in place like he had just seen an actual celebrity. “Yes, we can take a picture,” she laughed.
A little farther back in the line, Caitlin Reardon, 12 and also from Massachusetts, was waiting around with her mother, watching people from the party stream past Secret Service and out of the hotel.
She was wearing a Clinton button, and a sweatshirt in a very Clinton-esque royal purple. I asked her why she was there. ("Hillary!") Then I asked her what she liked about the Democratic frontrunner, and she did not mince words. “She's a girl!” she told me.
“And I think it’d be awesome if we had a first girl president,” she added, rapid-fire. “I think girls are amazing, and I think she is really presidential. And I think she could really get things done for America.”
Her mother, Patricia, said she was glad her daughter was so invested in the election. “It’s exciting to hear her thoughts on it,” she said. “She feels empowered and like she can do anything, whereas 20 or 30 years ago it didn’t seem like this could happen.
“It’s exciting that this will happen in her lifetime,” she added. “Probably a few times, actually.”