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Sehgal Melds Computers, Politics for Ga. Democrats

It’s been roughly a dozen years since 21-year-old Kabir Sehgal interviewed then-Georgia Secretary of State Max Cleland (D) for occasional articles in his elementary school newspaper, but in some ways the Dartmouth senior’s relationship with the former Senator hasn’t changed much. [IMGCAP(1)]

Today, Sehgal still finds himself taking down the Vietnam veteran’s every word. But now it’s as a volunteer travel aide to Cleland during campaign swings for Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) presidential bid, for which he maintains a Web log, “On the Road with Max Cleland.” The postings appear in conjunction with the Kerry campaign’s official blog and on the Georgia Democratic Party’s Web site.

“I didn’t even know the term till a few months ago,” admits Cleland, who credits Sehgal with first suggesting the blog. “The traveling was not a new idea, but tracking and communicating and recording that and instantly communicating [it] … back to the Kerry camp and to the world was.

“It adds a new dimension to the campaign.”

And Cleland isn’t the only Democrat turning to the precocious computers and music major for assistance in fusing the political and technological spheres.

Sehgal, who pioneered the Georgia Democratic Party’s blog, met with Kerry campaign officials in the spring to brainstorm on Internet issues. This past fall, when former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young was weighing a run for Georgia Senate, he called on Sehgal to develop his campaign cyber strategy.

“I built a whole Web site and then he pulled out,” Sehgal notes with just a hint of disappointment, though he still faithfully phones Young on the 15th of each month to see if the ex-Atlanta mayor needs any help “with computer problems.”

The son of Indian immigrants, Sehgal hails from a well-connected Atlanta family. His father, businessman and engineer R.K. Sehgal, was commissioner of industry, trade and tourism under then-Gov. Roy Barnes (D) and over the years has raised big bucks for the Democratic Party in Georgia.

Something of a technological autodidact, the young Sehgal spent his middle-school years poring over “600-page” computer books. “If I had been a little bit older I probably could have capitalized on the bubble,” he says matter-of-factly.

He may not have hit the high-tech jackpot, but while still in high school, Sehgal, a talented jazz bassist, did catch the eye of at least one musical luminary. His performance during a Jazz at Lincoln Center competition so impressed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis that the legendary jazzman took him under his wing, eventually inviting Sehgal to perform and tour with his quintet. Sehgal, who runs an Internet consulting company on the side, has also assisted Marsalis in the Web marketing of his CDs.

“I’m not just a political guy, I’m a business guy and a music guy,” says Sehgal, who recently founded www.codeivy.com, an Internet portal that brings Ivy Leaguers together. “It’s cool connecting the dots.”

Always on the outlook for new opportunities, Sehgal used his summer 2002 internship in the office of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to build a relationship with his then-presidential favorite, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). Sehgal, a self-described “DLC Democrat,” admits to positioning himself “in strategic places so [Lieberman] would always see me” on his way to vote. On one occasion, the intrepid Sehgal slipped the former Democratic Leadership Council chairman an envelope listing “10 ways we can turn out the vote for him in two years.”

The charm offensive paid off: Sehgal headed up the Lieberman for President effort at Dartmouth and even succeeded in bringing the then-presidential hopeful to campus to attend a house party at his fraternity.

In a statement, Lieberman said he was “grateful” for Sehgal’s service, and predicted the Peach State native is destined for “great things.”

Lieberman’s sentiments are apparently shared by much of the Georgia Democratic establishment, which couldn’t seem to find enough good things to say about Sehgal’s potential and contributions to date.

“I’m very high on this kid,” says ex-Gov. Barnes, who called Sehgal “a deep thinker … mature more than his years [and] talented more than one lifetime.”

“He’s brilliant,” adds Georgia Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Kahn, who was so impressed with Sehgal’s political work at Dartmouth, which included helping organize a presidential primary poll of New Hampshire voters, that he appointed him an adviser on youth vote, organization and mobilization for the 2004 presidential election. “He has a new idea everyday, at least one, and e-mails me at all hours.”

These days, in addition to traveling with Cleland — a role he plans to continue when he heads back to school this fall — the wunderkind is busy selecting a publisher for his book on the Ivy League (for which his “mentor,” former President Jimmy Carter, sat for an interview), mulling job offers from Fortune 500 companies, and pondering starting a business with college friends after graduation next year.

Sehgal, who has already accompanied Cleland on campaign trips to New York, Washington, D.C., Norfolk, Va., and Illinois, also recently got the chance to meet the Land of Lincoln’s Barack Obama (D).

“When I shook his hand he exuded quiet confidence [and] he has this funny name kind of like mine,” Sehgal says of his recent encounter with the rising Democratic star who is the clear frontrunner for the open Illinois Senate seat.

So does Sehgal foresee an Obama-like trajectory in his own future?

“I think I could see myself running,” he says somewhat hesitantly, before adding cheerfully, “It might be cool to be a Senator in Georgia or a governor.”