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U.S.: Republican Party Seeks To Engage Young Voters At National Convention

Barbara (left) and Jenna Bush speaking at the convention last night Young adults are among the voters getting more attention from the Republican Party in this close election year. With surveys showing President George W. Bush trailing Democratic challenger John Kerry among young voters, the party is using this week's convention in New York to make a push to try to attract younger voters and encourage them to go to the polls.

New York, 1 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Daize Shayne, a 24-year-old singer, model, and champion surfer performed last night at the Republican National Convention, one of the many signs that the so-called GOP -- or Grand Old Party -- is infusing some energy into its image in an effort to boost Bush's popularity among young adults.

A number of polls conducted in recent weeks show that Democratic challenger Kerry holds a strong advantage against Bush with voters under the age of 30. A poll by the respected Pew Center for the People and the Press released earlier this month reported Kerry ahead by 18 percentage points among this group.

The Republican Party is responding with a four-day national convention in New York this week that is particularly designed to appeal to young people. The festivities include a special Youth Convention today, which is expected to draw more than 2,500 young adults to the convention site. They will get access to the convention floor and interact with delegates and political leaders, including Bush administration cabinet members.

Bush's 22-year-old twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, are scheduled to appear at the Youth Convention, as well as sports stars and popular syndicated youth radio host Ben Ferguson.

Bush's daughters also spoke last night at the convention, and poked fun at their parents' knowledge of popular youth culture.

"Contrary to what you might read in the papers, our parents are actually pretty cool. They do know the difference between mono[nucleosis] and Bono [the lead singer for the Irish rock group U2]," Jenna Bush said. "When we tell them we're going to see Outkast, they know it's a band, and not a bunch of misfits. And, if we really beg them, they will even 'shake it like a Polaroid picture' [a line from Outkast's hit song 'Hey Ya']."

"Maybe they have learned a little pop culture from us. But we've learned a lot more from them. About what matters in life. About unconditional love. About focus and discipline," Barbara Bush said. "They taught us the importance of a good sense of humor. Of being open-minded and treating everyone with respect. And we learned the true value of honesty and integrity."

Eric Hoplin, a 25-year-old delegate from Minnesota, is among the youngest speakers at the convention.

Hoplin is chairman of the College Republican National Committee, a post previously occupied by Karl Rove, now Bush's chief political strategist. Hoplin said the events of 11 September 2001 were a wake-up call for his generation of Republicans.
"Contrary to what you might read in the papers, our parents are actually pretty cool." -- Jenna

"And you see that our generation makes up the bulk of the armed forces fighting the global war on terror," Hoplin said. "And those of us at home are on America's college campuses with rallies supporting the troops, supporting America. It's a very different feel. And so we're very active. We're very energized. We're very engaged in the political process. And we're very patriotic, and we're excited to support George W. Bush."

The College Republican National Committee lists 120,000 members.

Hoplin said he believes young people will be going to polling stations in much higher numbers this year.

"We think having a smaller government with smaller taxes allows the people to spend the money in the ways that are most important for them and their families," Hoplin said. "The president is talking a lot about creating an 'ownership' society, and I think that the youth of America are really looking forward to that. So that's one of the major differences. Republicans want people to be free, to live their lives as they see fit, and the Democrats want the government to tell them how they have to do it."

Sheri Valera, a delegate from Florida, is chairwoman of College Republicans of Florida. At age 21, she is among the youngest delegates at the convention. Valera said she aspires to a political career and hopes to be able to serve in the government.

Asked how she became a Republican, Valera said she found a connection between the party's ideals and her personal beliefs.

"It's what I believe. I first became a Republican back in the 2000 [presidential] election," Valera said. "I was never raised with any sort of party affiliation. And I liked George W. Bush first. He was a Republican. He attracted me to investigate the party, and I did, and I liked what they believed. It was exactly what I believed as a person. And so I identified myself as a Republican."

David Copley, a delegate from Pennsylvania, is 21 years old. He is the chairman of the Pennsylvania Federation of College Republicans. The average college Republican, he said, has two core beliefs -- faith in the free-market economic system and in a strong military.

"The biggest thing for students like myself, we really up make the backbone of the grass-roots activities that can help 'make or break' a candidate's campaign," Copley said. "One of the reasons the Republicans control the Senate right now is because of the hard work of [young] Republican [volunteers] in a few key states like Minnesota and Missouri and Georgia, who really pushed their candidate over the top through hours and hours of making phone calls and knocking on doors, trying to get Republican voters to the polls in the 2002 election cycle."

Copley said that while a "typical model" for a college Republican does not exist, most of them -- like party members as a whole -- are against abortion, while most Democrats tend to favor abortion rights. Democrats tend to favor gun control, while Republicans generally don't. These differences, Copley said, make Democrats a little more European in their way of thinking.

According to another poll by the Pew Research Center, young voters today are giving the election in November a lot more thought than they did four years ago. Fifty-three percent of registered voters ages 18 to 29 said they have thought a lot about this election, compared with 45 percent in 2000.