Conservatives Aim to Reengage Youth at CPAC

For all the verbal jabs directed toward Barack Obama's policies at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, there is one Obama item that event organizers openly are trying to emulate.

The president carried the under-30 demographic by more than 2-1 in 2008. His efforts to connect with young Americans and ability to galvanize the youth vote served as a wake-up call to many conservatives, who are trying with renewed vigor to engage the next generation of American conservatism.

"We can say what we like about Barack Obama, but gosh darn it, he energized the youth vote like we haven't seen in a long, long time," said Brooks Kefer, an American University student and Youth Conservative Coalition volunteer. "I think we're starting to see the counterbalance to that."

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From the look of the conference, conservative efforts are succeeding. Thousands of college-age or younger students filled the crowd Thursday to hear the likes of Dick Cheney, Mitt Romney and even actor Stephen Baldwin talk about the Republican Party's future.

But more than just talking to young people, organizers at this year's CPAC are making tangible efforts to engage with young conservatives and get them talking with each other.

The main product of these efforts is XPAC, or "Xtreme Politically Active Conservatives," a social and entertainment lounge at the convention where young conservatives can come together and hang out, get to know each other and share ideas.

While the success of XPAC is still to be determined, the stepped-up efforts by the Republican establishment to reach out to conservative youth has been a welcome change to many of the young activists in attendance.

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"We're really getting energized, and I think that's being shown by turnout, and by all sorts of different movements on college campuses," said Travis Korson, president of the George Washington University Chapter of the Young America's Foundation, a conservative youth organization.

"At George Washington, we had a 25 percent increase in membership this year," Korson said. "A lot of freshmen came out, and a lot of other people who generally wouldn't be active have been really lionized by some of the policies of the Obama administration."

Zach Howell, national chairman of the College Republicans and a recent graduate of the University of Utah, said the issues brought forward at CPAC show that conservatism has a lot to offer today's younger generation.

"Young people today are going to find themselves swamped with debt, and they're going to find themselves swamped with dysfunctional government programs that are no longer able to meet the challenges of the day because generations before them weren't willing to make the difficult choices to fix the problems," Howell said. "We believe the Republican Party is the only hope to institute responsible, sustainable government policy and get some of these programs fixed and make some of the tough choices necessary to put things on the right track."

But both speakers on stage and student activists in attendance were adamant that America's youth have just as much if not more to offer back to the conservative movement.

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