DES MOINES, Iowa — A Des Moines high school was alive with presidential-campaign energy Tuesday morning, when Republican hopefuls Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and four of Mitt Romney's sons dropped by and tried to connect with teenagers.
The Valley High School students — some old enough to vote in the Tuesday caucuses — represented a rarer type of audience for the candidates, whose campaign events have typically been dominated by older Iowans.
They each tried to excite the students, some more successfully than others.
Ron Paul started out with a reference to singer Kelly Clarkson, whose record sales shot up after she posted a message of support for him on Twitter.
"Does anyone here know the name Kelly Clarkson?" Mr. Paul asked the students, who cheered in response. "Cause recently she endorsed me ... I have to admit, I didn't know a whole lot about her but I do know that our supporters were so enthusastic about it they went out and boosted her sales on her records by 600 percent."
Although the students applauded for each candiate, Mr. Paul seemed to attract the most enthusiastic response, with at least one student yelling his name even as Mrs. Bachmann finished her speech.
All of the candidates brought family members with them, and Mrs. Bachmann brought especial attention to two of her daughters, introducing them to the students as they stood on either side of her.
"This is Caroline, she just finished her first semester of college and survived," she said. "So this is what you're going to look like a year from now."
"And this is Elisa, who about two weeks ago finished college and so this is what it will look like just as you get to the workforce," she continued.
Then, Mrs. Bachmann held up her iPhone, praising its virtues and asking students if they wanted to "grow up to be Steve Jobs someday" and "create something new."
Aside from telling students she would lower gas prices and do away with the tax code, she stuck mainly to inspirational themes — in contrast to Mr. Paul, who spoke for a full 10 minutes on the subjects of inflation, internet piracy, overseas wars and federal debt.
"We want you to have the opportunities that my generation couldn't even have begun to imagine," Mrs. Bachmann said. "Oh my gosh, there's part of our future, there's part of our hope."
Her attempts to connect didn't work for student Philip Dobrinov, a senior who is headed to University of Chicago next year.
"She doesn't really have much substance, she kind of talks about herself, and I think she highlights points she thinks are important that aren't really necessary to her identity as a candidate," he said, adding that her frequent mention of being born in Waterloo was a turnoff for him.
Four of Mr. Romney's sons showed up after Mrs. Bachmann took her leave, with Tagg, the oldest, telling the students there are two issues that should concern them.
"The first is, what kinds of jobs will be available for you when you graduate from high school and college," he said. "The second is, how much debt is our generation going to leave your generation."
And Mr. Santorum made a surprise appearance, flanked by his wife, Karen, and six of his seven children.
Speaking at length about his father and grandfather who immigrated to the U.S. from Italy, he told the students they also needed to take charge of their future by holding lawmakers accountable.
"I know you're worried about your education, you're worried about job you're going to get — those are short-term worries," Mr. Santorum said. "The longer term problems are the ones that are going to affect you more profoundly."
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