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Who still wants to be a young Republican?

In the age of Obama, the GOP scrambles to attract a new generation of voters.

By Sean J. MillerCorrespondent / August 18, 2009

Young Republicans gathered for a McCain-Palin rally in Hershey, Pa., in the final days of last fall's presidential campaign. The GOP will need to expand the ranks of its young: Voters under 30 broke for Obama by a 2-to-1 margin.

Sue Kroll/NBC Newswire/AP/File

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Washington

Ryan Tang is a young Republican who voted for Barack Obama last fall. He liked Mr. Obama’s talk of bipartisanship. He thought he was someone – finally – who would work with Republicans and Democrats.

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But today, just six months into the president’s term, Mr. Tang is having buyer’s remorse. He doesn’t think Obama has lived up to his rhetoric. He’s worried about the country veering away from the core principles he believes in: free markets, smaller government, less regulation. Thus he’s now inclined to support a candidate with more managerial brio even if he or she is not particularly “cool” – a Republican like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or former eBay CEO Meg Whitman.

“And those people aren’t hip,” says Tang, a recent college graduate who works for a consulting firm in Washington, D.C.

As the Republican Party tries to retool after its drubbing last fall, it can only hope there are more Ryan Tangs out there. For as bad as the party’s loss of the White House and retreat in the US House and Senate were, its hit among young people was even worse.

Fully 22 million young people voted for Obama. He was the trendy postmillennial candidate of college campuses. He was the sultan of the Jon Stewart crowd, the titan of the Twitter set. Surveys showed that voters under 30 broke for Obama by a 2-to-1 margin. Perhaps even worse for the GOP, a recent Pew Research Center poll indicated that these voters are more likely to continue participating in politics – meaning they could form a Democratic bloc for some time to come. “Time is very short for the Republican Party to win these voters back,” admits Kristen Soltis, a GOP pollster in Washington.

Yet young people today also tend to be less cynical and more pragmatic. So if the president doesn’t live up to his ideals, the Republicans may just be able to recapture some of the loyalties of Gen Obama.

Certainly, plenty of young conservatives remain out there. They often tick off the basic values they still adhere to: limited government, low taxes, a strong foreign policy. “The Republicans have definite viewpoints on a lot of issues,” says Zachary Gray, a young manager at a nursing facility in Hyattsville, Md. “Democrats just seem to want to tax people.”