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Young Republicans seek a new kind of party

Reflecting an Obama age, they want more diversity and pragmatism, less partisanship.

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But key among many of its perceived faults, the Bush administration’s policies presented especially younger conservatives with the contradictions of a party that “ran against tax-and-spend Democrats and became cut-tax-and-still-spend Republicans,” says Wil Westholm, a 30-something Republican in Tucson, Ariz. It didn’t help that 25 percent of young people reported being contacted by the Obama campaign while only 13 percent said the McCain campaign courted them, according to the Pew Research Center.

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GOP needs to attract younger voters

“Young people are the new trees in the deforested Republican party, and they have to plant new trees and water them and get them going, and I don’t think they’re doing a very good job with it,” says Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University in Ames.

Still, the ups and downs of the Republican party in the late 20th century have been largely the result of actions by young ideologues. Conservative surges including the Goldwater era, the Nixon landslide, the Reagan Revolution, and Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” were fueled primarily by those under 40.

In fact, it wasn’t until the Clinton era that younger voters began trending more liberal than the overall population – a movement perhaps capped by Obama, who won 66 percent of the youth vote. In 1984, Ronald Reagan got 56 percent of the youth vote.

“We’ve now seen that the youth vote can turn out and will turn out if appropriately courted,” says Mr. Dziedzic, the recent law school graduate in Binghampton, NY.

But for Republicans, the solution may not just be in numbers. Perhaps the biggest challenge is how to incorporate, at the national level, an increasingly white, racially polarized, and Southern Republican base with the ambivalence about race and gender politics exhibited by the Gen-X, Gen-Y and Millennial age groups.

“This has to be real, and real means both that you look past ethnicity and race, but also that you understand ethnicity and race, and you understand that there are still issues that affect different groups differently,” says Mr. Delli Carpini.

A delegate to the Republican Convention, Ms. Rodriguez says the party’s “token nods” to diversity fell flat. Many immigrants “have conservative values, but they once again associate the Republican party with poor immigration strategies or the rich old white guy sitting up in his big corner office in D.C. What could he possibly know?” she says.