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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.

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Another young Republican, Andrew Clark, a college junior from Orange County, Calif., invokes the Gipper when he thinks of why he’s a Republican. Clark compares Ronald Reagan’s hard line against the Soviet Union to that of George W. Bush’s stand against terrorism after 9/11. “Republicans do have it right in the Middle East on foreign policy,” he says.

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Brian Graham, an entrepreneur in his mid-20s in St. Augustine, Fla., says he’s attracted to the party’s “common sense” policies – principally, less Washington intrusion into peoples’ pocketbooks and the economy. “We need to get back to those Reagan values,” Mr. Graham says.

Yet as important as that may be, many young people also think the GOP needs to rediscover Reagan’s positive vision. Young voters tend to be optimistic. They often look for someone to articulate a message of hope as they begin their careers and families. “If you, as a candidate, aren’t able to articulate why that person’s future is brighter because you’ve been elected, it’s very tough to get their support,” says Ms. Soltis.

Others agree the GOP needs to do more than wait to see if the Obama administration policies fail. They want Republicans to lead on issues that many young people feel passionate about and that haven’t always been GOP strong suits – the environment, healthcare, and education. “We need to be unafraid to talk about things that younger people care about,” says Mike DuHaime, a 30-something strategist who ran former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential bid.

Young activists hope the party will embrace more debate and diversity. In July, a row erupted over the race for the chairmanship of the Young Republican National Federation. One front-runner, Audra Shay of Louisiana, was accused of racism after she made light of Obama on a Facebook posting. She won the election anyway, narrowly defeating Rachel Hoff of Washington, D.C.

Ms. Hoff’s supporters urged her to start another organization. But she has decided to work within the group, saying the contested election only strengthened the party. “The GOP has the right principles,” she says. “We just have to come up with the ideas to make them work in 2009.”

For now, even many young Republicans admit, the GOP doesn’t have anyone to compete with Obama on style points. “You always see conservatives as being very stiff people,” says Tang, sitting in a Starbucks near his downtown office. “I can never see that changing.” Yet he remains undaunted. A slogan that might work for him with the right candidate now: Uncool competence.

Part of a series of articles on reshaping the Republican party.

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