As the 2012 presidential campaign begins to take shape, the younger generation is again in the spotlight

By Caitlin Gibbons
The Denver Post
POSTED: 09/26/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT
UPDATED: 09/26/2011 10:37:47 AM MDT

From left, Brittany Pettersen, Chelsea Canada, Richa Poudyal and Carrie Jackson with New Era Colorado, a political group aimed at the younger generation, work to register voters on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus last week. (Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post)


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For the youth vote, much has changed since 2008.

President Barack Obama is visiting Denver on Tuesday to deliver a speech at Lincoln High School on his proposed job act, which could be an election-deciding issue — especially for the younger generation, whose unemployment rates are at record highs.

The young voters who threw their support — in the form of votes and volunteer hours — behind Obama in 2008 are now on the sidelines until they get a clear look at the incumbent's opponent.

"Whoever the Republicans choose will play as much a role in Obama being re-elected as anything else," said Chris Laughlin, president of the Denver Young Democrats. "If they choose a moderate in the social aspect, Obama will have problems."

Laughlin said members of his organization aren't getting excited yet for the election, which is a concern.

The coalitions that were built around the youth vote in 2008 dissipated shortly after the election. And now organizers are working to collect their members and rekindle the spark.

"Part of the reason Obama won in 2008 was the young people didn't just go and vote. They volunteered and knocked on doors, which is essential to winning an election. He may still have their vote but perhaps not their efforts," Laughlin said.

Many chapters of the College Democrats are defunct or did not return calls seeking comment. The strong ties between political organizations such as New Era Colorado have yet to be made with the young Democratic organizations for the 2012 cycle.

Republican efforts to get out the youth vote are ongoing through college organizations and the party.

Ryan Call, the Colorado GOP chairman, spent an afternoon at the Colorado School of Mines in August helping register voters, and Secretary of State Scott Gessler will be speaking at the Auraria campus this week about the history of voting.

Ken Bickers, University of Colorado at Boulder political-science chairman, said around this time in 2007 and into the spring of 2008, he noted an energy from students for the upcoming presidential election. Students were slapping political stickers on everything from their cars to bathroom stalls, he said.

The stickers he sees on vehicles now are mostly faded from the 2008 campaign and a "precious few that are new."

"The novelty factor won't be there in 2012," Bickers said.

Soon-to-be-first-time voter Chelsea Marroquin, 19, in environmental studies and policy at CU, said she is not hearing a lot about the election from her peers but that in her hometown of Parker, it's all "anything but Obama."

She was in high school when the Obama buzz swept the imagination and ballots of the youth vote. But now that the campaign is not capturing firsts right and left, it may not play as a big deal in the minds of her peers.

Mounting frustration over a gridlocked Congress, failed campaign promises and an increasingly gloomy fiscal future has drained some of Obama's 2008 luster.

Nikkia Ballantyne, 31, who is studying linguistics at CU, said she is frustrated but doesn't point the blame solely at the president.

"It's frustrating Obama had so much potential and the stalemate in Congress made him seem ineffective," she said.

Students around the University of Colorado campus said by and large they aren't thinking about the 2012 election yet. Their parents are talking about the election while their peers jest about the Republican field of candidates u la late-night television.

Those who are in the political class have a slightly different perspective.

Republican Kailei Higginson said he thinks there is a lot of turmoil in the youth constituency with the unemployment rate. Higginson served as the president of the Auraria College Republicans and as the executive director for the Federation of College Republicans while he was attending Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Troy Ard, chairman of the College Republicans of Colorado, said the economy is going to play a starring role in the minds of youth voters, for better or worse.

He said he sees the youth vote in the 2012 presidential election going one of two ways — apathy or swinging to the right. Young conservatives who voted for Obama in 2008 are left feeling "bought and sold" by the president and other leaders in Washington, he said.

Colorado Young Democrats chairwoman Gena Ozols said people don't know where to aim their frustration, so it lands at the White House. But she is confident Democrats will stick with Obama during the 2012 cycle.

"There is still a bit of excitement for Obama. The young Democrats like the president and want to like him and get him back in there," Ozols said. "But it's going to be more of an uphill battle than in 2008."

Caitlin Gibbons:303-954-1638 orcgibbons@denverpost.com



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