When President Obama stepped out onto the tarmac in Richmond last May, he may have been a little surprised to meet Andrew Whitley.
Because on the surface, Whitley might not strike you as a Democrat.
From his firm handshake to his distinct accent, Whitley appears to embody the characteristics of a Republican man from southwestern Virginia. But, according to him, in his tiny hometown of less than 2,000 residents, he is well known as “The Democrat of Chilhowie."
And it’s a title Whitley wears well.
Before the 2008 election, Whitley was just another 15-year-old unable to influence politics. But during that election season, something in then-candidate Obama’s campaigning, stirred a deep drive for politics in Whitley.
“Listening to the President speak, it didn’t necessarily change my opinions, but it opened my eyes,” Whitley said.
Despite the overwhelming Republican presence in Whitley’s hometown, he has always gone against the grain.
“A lot of my friends and family, sitting around a dinner table talking politics, they were subjected to their parents beliefs and took them as their own,” Whitley said. “I was able to take a step back, and look at things for myself.”
Whitley found himself favoring Democratic policies for handling student debt. He even saw the principles of the party reflective of his religious views.
“I feel like the Democratic Party is painted as being anti-religion,” said Whitley. “But if you look at it closer, I feel the party represents my beliefs.”
In 2008, Whitley assisted Democratic congressional representative Rick Boucher while also volunteering hours to campaign for Obama.
Whitley wasted no time in becoming an active figurehead for the Democratic Party on Tech's campus when he entered as a freshman last year. He started the organization “Students for Obama” to generate buzz and gather volunteers to support the President’s re-election a year head of time.
His hard work culminated in an opportunity Whitley couldn’t refuse: to meet the president earlier this year before a campaign rally.
“I was ecstatic,” Whitley said, remembering the day.
Whitley was one of eight other “star volunteers” who were able to talk with the president briefly before the rally began. The president asked about Whitley’s hometown and his studies at Tech.