- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Young voters in the region are eager to cast ballots in the primary today, saying they are excited about the Democratic presidential candidates and participating in a meaningful election.

Audio Slide Show: Voices of Hillary’s supporters

“Not enough young people vote,” said Michelle Poisson, a 19-year-old student at Bowie State University who will vote for the first time today. “I think our choices can make a difference this time.”

The remaining candidates in the still-competitive presidential primaries — Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on the Republican side, and Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democrats — began stumping at area universities even before the conclusion of the Super Tuesday primaries last week. Mr. Obama, of Illinois, received the endorsement of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, during a huge rally at American University.

Mrs. Clinton, of New York, reached out to young voters at Bowie State University, while Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Obama picked the much larger University of Maryland in College Park.

At an Obama rally held yesterday at the school’s Comcast Center basketball arena, supporters were greeted with TV monitors reminding them they can sign up for text messages from the campaign.

“It’s so good to see this excitement from youth again, and it’s really sincere,” said Valerie Toyer of Clinton, Md., who took her two teenage daughters to the rally in College Park. “Barack brought that to the party.”

Disc jockeys warmed up the crowd and organizers played the “Yes, we can” YouTube video created by Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. Obama volunteers also asked the mostly college-age crowd to remind everyone they know to vote, especially through social-networking Web sites MySpace and Facebook.

Young people are responding in force to the attention being paid to them, said Alexandra Acker, executive director of the District-based Young Democrats of America.

“They’re being taken seriously by the candidates and the media,” said Ms. Acker, 29. “Young people in the D.C. area are so saturated with politics, but this is really an opportunity to have a say, and to have their voice matter. … There’s a lot of excitement on the ground.”

She said e-mail reminders and the use of Facebook to get out the vote also have catalyzed increased participation.

Much of that excitement can be attributed to the Democratic front-runners.

Mr. Obama is expected to cut into Mrs. Clinton’s slim delegate lead by sweeping the primaries today, and the senator overwhelmingly has captured the youth vote in most of the contests the Democrats have held so far.

George Washington University sophomore Jarrad Hubbard said the candidate represents a departure from the “status quo.”

Robert Goffner, a senior, said Mr. Obama has a “rock-star image to him” but questioned whether he has attracted more young voters across the country.

Maryland numbers suggest a change. The Maryland State Board of Elections processed 28,048 new registered voters last month before the primary registration deadline — 16,419 of them ages 17 to 24, nearly 60 percent of the total. And exit polls show Mr. Obama leads among voters ages 17 to 24.

But Clinton campaign strategist Mark Penn pointed to a key “myth buster” that he spotted in the Super Tuesday results — Mr. Obama is not the only candidate who attracts young voters.

Mrs. Clinton won the youth vote in Massachusetts and California. She also has reached out to young voters through forums and by sending 28-year-old Chelsea Clinton out on the campaign trail.

Her daughter has campaigned across the country, and also was at the University of Maryland rallying college students over the weekend. Also on the “Hillblazer” youth outreach team and campaigning for Mrs. Clinton is America Ferrera, 23, who stars in ABC’s TV series “Ugly Betty.”

Meanwhile, Republicans also say their candidates appeal to the region’s younger voters — even in the District, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 250,000.

Marcus Skelton, chairman of the D.C. Young Republicans, said his group has about 160 members but has seen a boost as election day approaches.

“If you look at all our candidates standing up against the establishment, that’s what young voters want in both parties,” said Mr. Skelton, 27. “That’s why people like the McCains, the Huckabees, the Ron Pauls …that’s what young people are looking for, especially on our side.”

Arlo Wagner contributed to this report

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