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Paul Ryan choice energizes young Republicans

Young Republican Augie Atencio, 16, of New Vernon, N.J., meets Josh Romney, middle son of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Wednesday at Tampa Improv.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Young Republican Augie Atencio, 16, of New Vernon, N.J., meets Josh Romney, middle son of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Wednesday at Tampa Improv.

TAMPA — At 42, Paul Ryan is one of the youngest members of a major party ticket in recent political history.

That fact isn't lost on the Republican Party's newest generation.

Young politicians and leaders here say Ryan's nomination as vice president is a boon to the party's hopes to excite the youth vote won heavily by President Barack Obama in 2008. And far from shying away from discussions about Medicare that Ryan inspires, young Republicans say they're ready and excited to debate entitlements.

On its face, the Ryan selection is a boost for Republicans hoping to dig into Democrats' youth vote advantage because he's young and energetic.

"(Ryan) is somebody who's closer in age to me than he is to his opponent, Joe Biden," said College Republicans national president Alex Schriver, who said he "could not be happier" about Romney's VP choice.

The Wisconsin lawmaker is the first Generation X candidate on either major party ticket, and his presence on the campaign trail has added oomph to Romney's rallies. Plus, Ryan's youthful image is helped by his reputation as an avid P90X fan.

"Especially when you see pictures of him hunting, or doing whatever … this is a guy who actually likes to do things we do," said Elliott Echols, a 22-year-old Georgia delegate and College Republicans regional director.

Winning the youth vote outright would be incredibly difficult for Republicans, who have been at a disadvantage with the demographic for the past 20 years. In 2008, exit polling found that Obama beat John McCain among voters ages 18 to 29 by 66 percent to 32 percent.

But on a deeper level, young Republicans say, Ryan can speak to younger voters about issues like Medicare and entitlement reform in a way older politicians can't because he'll be affected by the reforms as well. Ryan's Medicare overhaul would begin to change benefits in 2023.

Jackie Curtiss, a 22-year-old Republican National Committee member from Alabama who attempted to strike a requirement from the anti-abortion part of the Republican platform, said Ryan's youth is good for Republicans like her who are younger than most of the people in the room when policy issues are discussed.

"He does understand some of the issues that are important to young people like the debt and Medicare and the other entitlements — Social Security," she said. "The older generation, they are so afraid to talk about it. They realize they can push it down the road. While it is their issue, it's not going to affect them as much, so they can push it down the road. But this is our issue."

Schriver agreed, saying Ryan is an especially effective messenger to young voters.

"There's a difference between talking about young voters and talking to young voters, and I think Paul Ryan is somebody who gets that," he said. "In the two weeks he's been our vice presidential nominee, he's been on college campuses in Ohio; he's been on college campuses in New Hampshire."

And despite the traditional difficulties for political candidates discussing Medicare, many young people are ready to talk about it, specifically because they're the ones who would be most affected by changes to the program.

"Half of young people don't think Medicare will be around when they reach retirement age," Schriver said. "They get that. So let's have a conversation about it."

"There's a message when you're talking at the Villages. It's important that the bipartisan Ryan-Wyden budget would not affect anyone over the age of 55," he said. "If you're 22, what does age 55 mean? So I think when talking to young people it's the whiteboard approach — do you want it to go bankrupt or do you want it to be solvent?"

On social issues — particularly same-sex marriage — younger Republicans have some potential to shift the overall party's views. Most young GOPers agree that social issues aren't as big a concern for them in a campaign that's been dominated by the economy.

"There are a lot of younger people who do agree more on the conservative side — but the social issues, they're probably for same-sex marriage," Echols said. "I think the Republican Party has it right on the fiscal issues, which is going to bring a lot of people in."

Most of all, though, younger delegates say they want to ensure their voices and concerns are being heard.

"I think the fact that I've become a conservative earlier than a lot of people traditionally have means that I'll stick with those conservative values as I grow up," said Evan Draim, who at 17 is the youngest GOP delegate.

Draim — who has been sitting for scores of interviews — says he feels it's important to "give words to how Republican policies are benefiting (his) generation."

Paul Ryan choice energizes young Republicans 08/30/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 30, 2012 12:40am]

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