Obama reaching out to young voters before midterm elections

Kevin Brennan Contributor
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With the midterm elections fast approaching and Democrats facing major losses, President Barack Obama this week is going back to the young voters he brought out in record numbers in 2008.

Obama will host a “Moving America Forward” discussion at George Washington University on Tuesday and  answer questions at a youth town hall event Thursday night broadcast live on MTV, BET and CMT.

“There’s a palpable fear in the White House that the 2008 Obama voters are going to drop off in a huge way and not show up at the polls in 2010,” said Isaac Wood, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.  “So I think that’s the real impetus behind these events.”

Polling results released last week by the Pew Research Center justify the White House’s fears. The survey results show that interest in the Nov. 2 elections among under-30 Democratic voters is much lower than it was for the 2006 midterm elections, a year in which the Democrats made significant gains in Congress. Only 27 percent of young Democrats report giving a lot of thought to the elections this year, compared with 47 percent at about the same time in 2006. On the other hand, 39 percent of young Republican voters told Pew they were giving a lot of thought to the midterms.

Considering those numbers, College Republicans spokesman Rob Lockwood said he wasn’t surprised to see the White House trying to mobilize young people.

“This is a last-ditch effort, and it’s based on recent polls that show young people who are enthused tend to be Republicans,” Lockwood said. “This is their chance to say we need your help again.  And I don’t think the message is resonating with young voters.”

The Republican National Committee called the Democratic efforts “desperate.”

“What Democrats fail to realize is that young voters are disenchanted with the White House’s failed economic policies that have only increased job uncertainty and their share of the debt,” said spokeswoman Katie Wright.

But Democrats say it’s not too late for Obama to energize his young supporters. Rod Snyder, president of Young Democrats of America, said young people typically don’t pay much attention to midterm elections until October. And Snyder, whose group is intensifying its efforts to promote interest in the congressional elections, said the attention Obama pays young voters at events like the ones scheduled this week promote engagement and excitement.

“It helps us to be able to show that the president cares about young people and is speaking directly to young people because for a very long time, young voters were treated like second class voters,” Snyder said. “It helps us reinforce the message that this president cares very specifically about our issues.”

Indeed, the White House is betting that Obama’s appeal still resonates with the youth demographic in a year when Republicans across the country and even some Democrats are running against the president’s legislative record. Obama is being used to energize the Democrats’ base rather than recruit undecided voters.

“You have this asset of the president and you want to put him in play somehow but he really is toxic among independents,” Wood said. “I think they want him to speak to the base because that’s the only place he’s popular.”

But with young people typically more likely than older voters to sit out midterm elections, the president has his work cut out for him. This week’s youth outreach events will have to be very successful if the Democrats want to benefit from an outpouring of youth support at the polls on Nov. 2.

“History isn’t on their side,” Wood said. “And neither is the enthusiasm gap.”