Folly of Youth or Trove of Votes?

When it comes to voter mobilization, political candidates and parties have traditionally focused their resources on a sure bet: older voters who reliably show up at the polls time and time again.

But in the lead up to the 2008 election, youth vote organizations are urging presidential campaigns to target the millennial generation -- those 42 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 29.

"This generation is huge; it rivals the baby boomer generation in size," said Lindsey Berman, outreach director for Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan grass-roots effort targeting young voters. "The party that realizes this and mobilizes the youth vote will reap the rewards."

Youth vote groups are waging a public relations campaign aimed at '08 candidates, urging them to target young voters.

"Young voters made a major impact in at least a couple of races in the last midterm election," said Kathleen Barr of Young Voter Strategies, a nonpartisan group funded by Pew and George Washington University.

Groups Argue Tactics Will Attract Young Voters

Young Voter Strategies is releasing a report Tuesday titled "Young Voter Mobilization Tactics," suggesting some tight 2006 midterm races were won because political campaigns mobilized young voters in specific ways.

According to the study, Democratic Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney's campaign "energized youth by engaging on relevant issues, from college costs to Iraq."

Winning by only 83 votes, Courtney credited young voters for his election to Congress.

In Minnesota, the Democratic Party's youth coordinator targeted likely young voters by trolling Facebook and MySpace for people whose profiles said they were very liberal to moderate. The campaign then matched the names on its list with campus directories and sent student volunteers dorm to dorm.

"Studies show people are more likely to vote if they hear about a candidate or their platform directly from a peer, someone their own age," said Alex Cutler, director of the 2006 Democratic youth campaign in Minnesota.

The report says the campaign of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., attracted young voters with a 10-day bus tour designed to recruit young volunteers and by working with the College Republicans.

"Substantive youth targeting clearly made an impact on some of these races," said Barr of Young Voter Strategies, arguing that if '08 candidates target young people, they could inch out competitors.

Folly of Youth or Trove of Votes

Taking heed of that advice, former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., have all hired youth vote coordinators to focus exclusively on mobilizing young voters.

"We are going to run a coordinated, organized effort that really aggressively reaches out to young voters and encourages them to get involved," said Isaac Baker, a spokesman for Clinton's campaign.

As part of her effort to specifically target female voters, Clinton has another staff member zeroing in on mobilizing young women.

"We're going to coordinate those efforts, be it on the Web, be it on college campuses, wherever it's most effective to reach young people, we're going to go there and speak to them about issues that they care about," he said.

Targeting young people, Clinton's campaign sent her supporters cell phone text messages in May with updates about the campaign.

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