WALPOLE, N.H. — Quinn Mitchell held his phone in his hand as he looked up at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
It was his turn to ask a question at Desantis’ first town hall event in New Hampshire. The Granite State is known for its first-in-the-nation primary, and its voters cherish the state’s strong influence in deciding presidential nominees. Those voters have built a centrist reputation, posing tough questions to candidates no matter their party affiliation.
Mitchell is no different from those Granite Staters. At DeSantis’ town hall in Hollis, he stood up to ask him a question about DeSantis’ now-rival in the 2024 Republican primary, former President Donald Trump.
“Do you believe that Trump violated the peaceful transfer of power, a key principle of American democracy that we must uphold?” Mitchell asked.
There is one thing that separates Mitchell from New Hampshire’s voters: he can’t vote.
“Are you in high school?” DeSantis asked, seemingly taken aback.
Mitchell is indeed in high school. More specifically, he’s 15 years old and is going into his sophomore year. He’s too young to vote, but he’s been to dozens of candidate events in New Hampshire since the 2024 Republican presidential primary kicked off.
Over lunch in his hometown of Walpole, a small town near the border separating New Hampshire and Vermont, Mitchell told USA TODAY he felt it was his civic duty – especially when he can’t vote yet – to be involved in the Granite State’s unique democratic process.
“I feel like it’s in a way my civic responsibility to ask these questions that need to be asked. I’m here. I have the opportunity, and it’s happening in my backyard,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people are unfortunate to not have the platform to ask those questions.”
A product of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary
Mitchell describes himself as a history buff, reading books about presidential politics since he was just 8 years old. He also maintains a diverse news diet, listening to radio news regularly in his bedroom and reading newspapers across the political spectrum.
When he learned in 2019 that several candidates were gunning for the Democratic nomination he knew he “wanted to be a part of it.”
Mitchell recalled a moment when Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., then a presidential candidate, stopped by his church for Easter Sunday. The minister called him to the front of the church after the sermon to introduce him to the lawmaker.
She “was a candidate I haven’t met, and I was so excited. It’s very weird because I was 11. My friends think it was the weirdest thing ever,” Mitchell said.
That moment was when he started to really involve himself in the state’s presidential primary. After he met Klobuchar, Mitchell attended one of her town halls where she encouraged him to ask a question, unbeknownst to his hobbies. The 11-year-old preteen asked her what she made of special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony to the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, which he remembered “shocked her.”
That moment was so memorable for Klobuchar, he became part of her stump speech on the campaign trail.
“I am well aware of the detailed knowledge of New Hampshire voters,” Klobuchar joked at a town hall in Henniker, referencing her encounters with Mitchell.
But perhaps his fondest memory of the 2020 Democratic primary was when he met President Joe Biden when he was still campaigning for the nomination. After a town hall, Biden motioned for Mitchell to come over and handed him a challenge coin bearing the seal of the vice president.
“He gave me a five minute lecture about what it was, what it’s supposed to mean and the importance of keeping promises,” Mitchell said. They agreed on a promise between just the two of them: the next time Mitchell sees Biden, if he brings the challenge coin, the former vice president owed him a drink.
Over the course of the next few months until the New Hampshire primary, Biden actually owed him multiple drinks. For an 11-year-old, the drink of choice was Coca-Cola.
Mitchell remembers one moment when Biden came prepared for the deal.
“He just pulled this Coca-Cola out of his pocket,” Mitchell said, laughing.
‘I’ve never been about attacking somebody’
Despite those memorable moments from the campaign trail, Mitchell still values the opportunity to be at the open forum events where New Hampshire has built its political identity.
Before every town hall, Mitchell said he “has to study a lot” to think about a question a candidate has not talked about yet, but is also relevant to current events.
“I usually have to watch long interviews and press conferences,” he said. For some candidates, he said he spends hours going through their public statements.
Like in the Democratic primary, his presence for the Republican primary is getting some notice. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has started to recognize Mitchell and noticed him when he asked DeSantis his question about the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021.
“He goes to every town hall meeting in New Hampshire,” Christie said in an interview on CNN, “He asks really tough questions.”
Mitchell asked Christie at a town hall in April, before he announced his candidacy, about Christie’s previous support for Trump, putting him in a difficult spot.
“I heard you say that one of the reasons you endorsed Trump is that you really did not want (Hillary) Clinton to be president in 2016. And now based on recent knowledge that Trump was arrested, Trump was prosecuted on criminal charges, do you think that Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would have been the better bet in 2016?” Mitchell asked.
Despite Christie’s identity in the 2024 GOP race as Trump’s chief antagonist, Mitchell’s question made him go on the record. The former New Jersey governor said he would have supported Trump, regardless of his criticism.
When he asks those tough questions, Mitchell said he tries to avoid coming off as “attacking” or politically biased, explaining that he has been to so many town halls out of a pure passion for politics.
“I’ve never been about attacking somebody. I’m just gonna ask the question,” Mitchell said.
‘Quinn, remember me when you are president’
Mitchell said he wishes more people his age were at least somewhat as invested in politics as he is. He’s tried to get his friends to come along in the past, but they demurred.
“A lot of the people I know, they are really disinterested in politics,” Mitchell said. “I wish there was more youth engagement. I’ve tried to bring some friends but again they tell me ‘No I’m not interested. I’m just gonna play Minecraft.’”
To be fair, Mitchell said he also plays a lot of Minecraft − a popular video game – a reminder to the people around him that he is still 15 years old.
When he’s not traveling to see a candidate or attending a political event, he helps his parents with farmwork. But his other hobbies are still close to his passion for politics. In his spare time, he reads books on history and watches documentaries and older presidential debates.
“I’ll just watch hours of debates. I rewatched the 2016 debate recently,” Mitchell said. It was not a form of studying for the 2024 race, but just out of fun.
“I love watching them,” he said. He’s also tried to get his friends to watch them with him, but unsurprisingly, they’ve turned down his gracious offers.
It’s easy to think Mitchell, with his love for politics and his dedication to meeting every candidate on the campaign trail, is looking to be a politician himself.
Biden, along with the challenge coin, signed a copy of his memoir for Mitchell in 2019, writing “Quinn, remember me when you are president.”
And when Christie saw Mitchell at one of his town halls in August, the former New Jersey governor introduced him to the crowd before taking his question.
Someday, Christie said, Mitchell’s political passion will put him in elected office.
“I can’t wait until I’m old enough that he does that, and I’m sitting somewhere in New Jersey watching TV and seeing Governor or Senator Quinn, and I will be completely unsurprised,” Christie said.
But if there’s anything the first-in-the-nation primary has taught Mitchell, he said, it’s that he wants nothing to do with running for office.
“It’s definitely a really good hobby. It’s not video games,” Mitchell joked. But from what he’s seen on the campaign trail, he has no interest in being a politician, saying “you can never make a mistake. It’s extremely stressful.”
Instead, Mitchell said he could see himself going into journalism, considering he has started to build a reputation as an unassuming high school student with a knack for putting prospective presidents on the spot.
He’s recently started a podcast, called “Into the Tussle” where he plans to provide his own unbiased perspective on the presidential nominating process and hopefully talk to people who can actually vote in his home state.
“You have to start somewhere,” Mitchell said. “And I just want to talk about politics.”