Interest builds on campuses

The Baltimore Sun

When MTV tried to get young people to Rock the Vote, it wound up with plenty of rock but not many votes. And when P. Diddy challenged the hip-hop generation to "Vote or Die," it did neither.

But this election year, young voters have been a force in the presidential nominating contests. Full of excitement about the Maryland primary tomorrow, young activists are canvassing neighborhoods, volunteering for candidates and Facebooking their friends, urging them to cast ballots on Election Day.

"There's just, like, this amazing excitement on campus," said Jonathan Sachs, 20, a sophomore political science major at the University of Maryland, College Park. "Students are really energized about this race. And it's just so nice to see people with friends talking about the candidates - just the dialogue that has come out of this election is refreshing."

The youth energy in this year's election has mostly been associated with the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, and the Illinois Democrat has been working to turn out young supporters in Maryland. The Obama campaign sent actor Kal Penn (best known for his starring turn in the comedy Harold & Kumar go to White Castle) to several Maryland colleges on Friday, and the senator plans a rally today on the College Park campus.

But other campaigns have been reaching out to young voters. New York Sen. Hillary Clinton dispatched her daughter, Chelsea, to Baltimore and to the University of Maryland yesterday, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee held a rally in College Park on Saturday.

As voter enthusiasm grows, campaigns have become more youth-savvy, using Facebook groups, YouTube videos and even Election Day text messages to remind voters of their polling sites.

The result has been a striking increase in youth turnout in nearly every primary state, including a fourfold increase in Tennessee and threefold jump in Georgia, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the University of Maryland.

In the Iowa caucuses, young people helped deliver victories for Obama and Huckabee, who each received their strongest support from voters ages 18 to 29, according to the center's analysis of exit polls. Iowa's under-30 turnout was 13 percent this year, compared with 4 percent in 2004.

"It's been pretty dramatic, and for those of us who work on this issue, it's been pretty exciting," said Peter Levine, the center's director.

Members of the millennial generation, born after 1985, are more likely to volunteer and participate in community activism than previous generations, making voting a likely extension of their activities, Levine said.

These voters, overwhelmed by news media and advertising, tend to place a high value on authenticity in a political candidate, he said. They also seek campaigns that emphasize positive themes, problem-solving and ways that voters can play a role.

Brandon Boor, 20, of Columbia, who is president of the College Republicans at York College in Pennsylvania, drove two hours to the College Park rally to cheer for Huckabee and wave an "I like Mike" sign. He said he liked the shoestring, underdog campaign that Huckabee has run.

"It shows that a good message is more important than money when it comes to campaigning," Boor said, as he waited for Huckabee to speak. "People can relate to him, because he's very humble ... and very religious, too."

Obama's message of hope and his mantra, "Yes, we can," have energized students such as Stephanie Farquhar, 26, a doctoral student at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health.

"This is the first time in a long time that youth have had a candidate that looks like them, that feels like them and sort of represents the energy that we have," said Farquhar, who leads the campus chapter of Students for Obama.

Personality drives many young voters to involvement, said Evan Lazerowitz, 18, an international studies major at Hopkins, who supports Arizona Sen. John McCain.

"I've always really liked him," he said. "Sure, the party plays a big role for me, and I tend to identify myself as a Republican and a conservative ... but that maverick image resonates well."

Image isn't the only aspect that drives young people to the polls. Syeetah Hampton-El said she believes young voters should back Clinton because of the senator's stance on health insurance.

Hampton-El, 28, who lives in Baltimore, said she went without health insurance for seven years while attending college and law school.

"She's such a strong woman. She's worked across the aisle, and she fights extremely hard," said Hampton-El, who was handing out Clinton stickers as Chelsea Clinton visited Northeast Baltimore. "She is someone young voters can stand behind."

Candidates have learned from young people to switch from gimmicks to strategies that emphasize a personal approach, said Michael P. McDonald, a professor of government and politics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

"In the last 10 years or so, the campaigns have learned that Rock the Vote doesn't work. Holding a concert and telling young people to vote isn't going to mobilize them," he said. "Research shows that face-to-face contact is the most effective way to get someone to vote. It beats a phone call. It beats a direct-mail piece."

McDonald is not certain whether young people from the region will come out in the record numbers that they have so far this primary season. He said exit polls showed less of a surge in young voter turnout on Super Tuesday than in the early primary states.

Still, as a generation, young voters are likely to continue their participation.

"If you voted once, you are much more likely to vote again," he said. "It's good news for democracy."

Sun reporters Lauren Shull, John Fritze and Tom Pelton contributed to this article.

Campaigning in Maryland and Virginia

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton will be at the GM Allison Transmission Plant in White Marsh at 10:30 a.m. today.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama plans to hold two rallies today. The first is at the University of Maryland, College Park. Doors will open at 10:30 a.m. at the Comcast Center. The event is open to the public, but the campaign encourages potential attendees to RSVP via the Internet at Obama is to speak later at 1st Mariner Arena in Baltimore. Doors open at 2:45 p.m. To RSVP, go to

After a morning news conference in Annapolis, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain will hold a rally at 5:30 p.m. today at the Virginia Aviation Museum, Richmond International Airport, 5701 Huntsman Road, in Richmond.

Michelle Obama, wife of the Illinois senator, will host a "Stand for Change" rally at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore at 12:45 p.m. today, with doors opening at noon. To RSVP, go to She will host a similar rally at 5:30 p.m. at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, 4301 East West Highway, in Bethesda. To RSVP, go to

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