Thursday, July 29, 2004

Young Dems get campaign pointers


'Boot camp' puts focus on votes

By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Erich Streckfuss, 20, has been trained, pumped up and issued talking points.

"We'll start up Students for Kerry as soon as we get back," said Streckfuss, of Westwood. He'll also run - yes, run - the campaign of a state House candidate.

The University of Cincinnati junior is part of an army of 17- to 35-year-olds harnessed by Democrats and the Kerry campaign at the Democratic National Convention.

A group called Democratic GAIN (Grassroots Action Institute & Network) has been running training sessions for young conventioneers. Their mission: Get votes for Kerry and Democrats, especially from 18- to 30-year-olds who have stood on the sidelines in recent elections.

Half the events at the convention, not to mention the parties, are geared for youth. The youngest delegate, Sarah Bender, 17, of Medina, Ohio, said she has been "busy doing press."

She's taking pictures for MTV and she delivered the Pledge of Allegiance Wednesday. She not only got into the cool parties but was treated like a celebrity.

A Newsweek.com poll out this week showed Sen. John Kerry leading President Bush 48 percent to 41 percent among registered voters under 30. The poll, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5.1 percentage points, showed Kerry's support was strongest among singles and city residents. Bush did best among homeowners and married 20-somethings.

Only one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in the 2000 presidential election, according to census data - about half the rate of senior citizens.

Democrats and Republicans - as well as innumerable groups pushing the young to register - are lassoing the group, hoping young voters can make the difference in a closely divided election.

The thousands of youths being trained at the convention here will one day dominate politics, said Josh Grossfeld, a 24-year-old from Phoenix who is Democratic GAIN's deputy executive director.

"We have people here who want to be the next James Carville, and people who want to be the next John Kennedy," he said.

Even before the convention started, Democrat GAIN was running a special weekend session. The training session was part boot camp and part college course - "Campaign 101," said Grossfeld.

Trainees learned fund-raising, networking, what a campaign manager does, and the best ways to spread the Democratic message.

Jonathan McPike, an 18-year-old delegate from Montgomery, said one lesson is to "talk to as many people as you can." For Andrew Rudick, 17, of Anderson Township, it consists of his friends.

"Next time I'm hanging out with them at the house I'm going to tell them this is more important than I thought it was," he said.

E-mail cweiser@gannett.com




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