Young Republicans seek a new kind of party
Reflecting an Obama age, they want more diversity and pragmatism, less partisanship.
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That’s in part why young Republicans like Philip Henderson, the son of a pentecostal preacher in Georgia, is talking about improving public schools instead of just focusing on charter schools and vouchers. Mr. Lee, for one, says Barack Obama exemplified a hunger for a new, less divisive politics that Republicans, too, can tap into. “I don’t equate idealism with any particular party,” he says.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Westholm says the Republican party dropped the ball on the environment, a key concern to younger voters. He points to the Paris Hilton flap during the election when he says many found the hotel heiress making more sense on how to save the environment than John McCain, who had tried to tie Ms. Hilton’s celebrity status to Obama.
And while Democrats abandoned the “Rock the Vote” model of reaching younger voters in favor of social networking and blogs, the Republican post-2002 “talking points” strategy seemed woefully out of date with generations who want to be engaged in dialogue, not be told what to say, says Westholm.
“We as young Republicans are now taking the lead on branding,” argues Dziedzic. “It can’t be astroturf. It has to be true grassroots.”
And it may be working. Pointing to Republican victories in Louisiana and Georgia after the Nov. 4 vote, Republicans are now batting .1000 in the post-2008 era. Rodriguez says she’s received more e-mails about joining the party in the month after the election than the entire run-up to the general election.
Independents a key target
“It’s the people who are independent, who lean toward the Republican party, and who haven’t really liked what we’ve been doing in the last few years,” says Westholm, a Navy veteran who now works for a defense contractor.
“It’s those people we’re seeing get active, and who recognize that now is the opportunity for the party to step back, reorganize, and get cohesive again,” says Mr. Westholm.
That won’t be easy.
To gain plurality, the party has to tie together three disparate and not easily reconciled strands: The rural and evangelical South and West, exemplified by Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin; the libertarian fringe embodied by Ron Paul; and multiracial pragmatists, such as Gov. Bobby Jindal in Louisiana.
“William F. Buckley saw the movement being larger than just one person, and there’s no one speaking to this group anymore like he did or saying what he did,” says Dave Woodard, a Republican strategist at Clemson University in South Carolina. “Whoever can begin to talk to youth about conservative values would be someone worth noting.”