- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Grand Old Party is trying to attract some young blood to its national convention in September, hoping to offset, as much as possible, the magnetic appeal of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama among young voters.

“We want to change the face of the Republican Party - it doesn’t have to be all white males,” said Kevin Williams, 20, of the Youth Convention group, a grass-roots organization of young Republicans dedicated to boosting youth attendance at the convention in St. Paul, Minn.

The goal is a formidable one. The latest Gallup Poll shows that Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, holds a 36 percent lead over presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain among voters 18 to 29 years old.

In an attempt to pump up enthusiasm for Mr. McCain and the Republican Party, the youth group is hosting a weeklong program in Minneapolis from Aug. 26 through Sept. 4 - just before and during the Republican National Convention in nearby St. Paul. The program includes educational classes and social parties for a younger audience.

And though the scheduled speakers, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy, California Republican and chairman of the Convention Platform Committee, and Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, wouldn’t appear to infuse hipness, the group hopes the overall experience will attract 600 participants.

“We really want people to get active and stay active in politics,” said Namrata Idnani, 21, one of group’s eight working members. “We have to keep conveying these messages in order to keep politics alive in our youth.”

The group, which is sponsored by the Kern County Republican Party in California, emphasizes grass-roots education and will conduct seminars in Minneapolis designed to train young voters on how to get involved in politics at all levels - from local races to the presidential campaign.

“This is where campaigning should start,” said Miss Idnani, a student at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Pamela Duran, 21, said the group “isn’t about a candidate, it’s about the experience.”

“It wasn’t necessarily the candidate that appealed to me; it was the general message,” said Miss Duran, a University of Richmond student. There are a lot of older leaders in the party, and we want to have a younger crowd.”

Miss Idnani said the group’s mission is to promote the power of the youth vote - not necessarily to support any one candidate.

“We’re really here to spread education and information about what young people can do,” she said. “We’re looking to encourage more diversity.”

Democrats in the Washington area, meanwhile, also are working to involve young people in their party’s national convention.

D.C. Democratic Party spokesman David Meadows said four students from the city were selected through a writing contest to act as pages at the party’s convention next month in Denver.