McCain's Local Base Gets Injection of Youth

Andy Brehm is an e-mailaholic who frequently logs onto his Facebook social networking page to chat with his friends over the Web.

But the man he wants to be the nation's next president doesn't do any of those things.

Brehm, 27, a recent law school graduate, is as tech savvy as they come. John McCain, 71, the presumptive Republican nominee, once said he's never done "a Google."

It's no secret that McCain has had a hard time breaking the generational divide. The latest Gallup Poll shows his Democratic challenger, Barack Obama, 47, holds a 30 percentage-point lead over McCain among voters 18 to 29.

Those numbers don't concern Brehm and some other young Republicans in Minnesota who are hitting the pavement to excite peers about McCain as the Republican National Convention in St. Paul gets closer.

"To be honest, I'd rather the president not spend his time e-mailing," Brehm said. "There are more important things to deal with. This country has some real serious problems that big government and higher taxes aren't going to fix."

Andrew Foxwell has been helping the McCain campaign organize events for young professionals in the area to mingle, talk about issues and meet supporters. The 23-year-old is hoping for some big names at an event later this month, right before the Sept. 1-4 convention kicks off at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

The Minneapolis resident is trying to build support for McCain by talking with people and starting a ripple effect.

"I'm never one to shove my views down people's throats. But it's about having a dialogue," Foxwell said. "If 100 people have those discussions with five friends, it's going to make an impact.

"I know it's catching on," he said. "People are starting to look at McCain and see how he's a real guy with real answers."

Brehm said there's no question that Obama is a political rock star and many of his friends were at first intrigued and impressed by the younger candidate.

But he said that changed when they started boiling it down to the issues. Topping the agenda for young voters this election cycle are the economy, the environment, education and the war in Iraq.

The candidates offer starkly different ways to solve those issues:

McCain wants to make President Bush's tax cuts permanent. Obama wants to repeal those cuts for the rich and give middle-class and working families tax relief to stimulate the economy.

McCain wants to suspend the federal gas tax and supports offshore drilling to bring gas prices down. Obama supports alternatives like ethanol to wean the country from its dependence on foreign oil. Obama has dropped his opposition to offshore drilling but supports it only as part of a broader energy plan.

Obama opposed the invasion of Iraq from the beginning, opposed the troop "surge" and has pushed for a timetable for withdrawal. McCain has done the opposite.

Education plans are starting to materialize. McCain supports school vouchers and expanding tutoring options. Obama has proposed $18 billion in spending, particularly to expand early-childhood education and teacher training opportunities.
In Brehm's opinion, his peers are looking at their first real paychecks and think the government is taking enough for taxes; they believe McCain was on the mark about Iraq; and they're scared about Social Security and don't expect to get a dime when they retire.

"If the election comes down to show, I guess Barack Obama is the guy," Brehm said. "But when it comes to the substance, the issues, I think we have a lot more in common with McCain."

But Obama fans say the Illinois senator isn't all style with no substance. He has both — the passion and oratory to raise people to greatness and the smarts and depth to lead policy.

Matt Roznowski, a 21-year-old at the University of Minnesota, has been following Obama since he announced his candidacy in 2007 and believes McCain is trying to distract voters from the issues.

"I appreciate (McCain's) heroics and service to our country, but I really think he's doing a disservice when he's comparing Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton instead of talking about the issues," Roznowski said. "It's not helping the cost of my textbooks go down or helping me with my inflating tuition bills."

Democrats argue that not only does McCain not have the support of younger voters in general, but the nominee is also struggling to get those in his own party hyped up.

For example, the number of volunteers signed up for the Democratic National Convention in Denver is double what St. Paul will have when the Republicans come to town.

Just weeks ago, the RNC host committee finally reached its goal of recruiting 10,000 volunteers to pitch in during the event. Denver, on the other hand, has had more than 22,000 people express interest in volunteering — and the calls keep coming.

Convention organizers say that could have something to do with differences in recruiting. Denver began looking for volunteers more than a year ago. St. Paul started a few months ago.

Chris Lopez, spokesman for Denver's host committee, said a new wave of interest in volunteering hit when the primary race between Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton heated up. But it's not all younger voters: The average age of Denver's volunteers is in the mid-40s.

"Whether they were loving the candidate or loving the energy the candidates were fueling on the campaign trail, that generated even more interest in volunteering," Lopez said. "People still want to volunteer. It's amazing how many people want to be here."

Young Republicans in Minnesota have the same passion about their nominee.

It might not seem that way when you turn on the TV and see thousands of Obama supporters screaming at one of his rallies, then flip the channel to see a much more subdued McCain chatting with voters in town hall-style settings. But that's what Foxwell likes about McCain — those smaller, intimate settings where voters get to know the candidate. Foxwell worked for McCain during the primaries and had access to the candidate that none of his peers got on the other campaign.

"Seeing Obama is like going to a U2 concert," he said. "I think in the end ... young people like that (McCain's) a real guy instead of this political icon."

Mike Falk, a 17-year-old from Albert Lea, is co-chairing the McCain Youth Campaign and is busy organizing events. He hopes to have a booth at freshman orientations at various colleges across the state when classes begin in September.

"I think this year, more than ever, people are engaged," Falk said. "This election is going to affect our lives for the next 20, 30, 40 years."

Megan Boldt is a political writer for The St. Paul Pioneer Press. Politico and the Pioneer Press are sharing content for the 2008 election cycle and during the Republican National Convention.

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