Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election with overwhelming support from young voters. This year, the president and Governor Mitt Romney are neck-and-neck in the polls, in part because many young conservatives have mobilized to support the challenger. Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez spoke with some young movers and shakers in the GOP to hear what makes them tick. She filed this report.
REBECCA MARTINEZ: Sophomore Cory Schroder is the outreach coordinator for the University of Wyoming College Republicans. He’s sitting at a table in the Student Union with a sign up sheet and a welcoming smile.
CORY SCHROEDER: Every Wednesday we set up a table from noon to two, just trying to recruit or get our name out there so we can get potential students to come out meetings and join our organization.
MARTINEZ: Wyoming will probably vote overwhelmingly for Romney, so he and his fellow College Republicans use meeting time to volunteer in a phone bank, calling voters in the swing state of Colorado. Schroeder says he’s worried about entitlement programs and funding for the military.
UW senior Sam Rubino, president of the College Republicans, is worried that environmental regulations will hurt the energy industry, which could weaken Wyoming’s economy. He says he hopes to work for a coal company after he graduates.
Rubino says he also doesn’t like the way the left is portraying the right during this election season.
SAM RUBINO: Republicans and conservatives in general have been painted to be heartless because there’s this idea that if we don’t support President Obama’s policies, we must not want healthcare for people, and we must not want to help students who are struggling to pay off their student loans. That’s not the case. Republicans and conservatives don’t feel that way.
MARTINEZ: Republican politics in his blood. His mother is a member of the Albany County Republicans. His grandfather, the late Republican Representative Jim Hageman, served in the Wyoming House for 24 years. Rubino says he’s glad that Republican candidates this year are taking a note from Obama’s 2008 campaign, which actively worked to engage disenfranchised young voters in new ways, including utilizing social media.
SAM RUBINO: I think that scared the Republican party into realizing that the youth does matter and the youth will go out and vote in droves.
MARTINEZ: Rubino interned at U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis’ Washington DC office in the summer of 2011, compiling reports and talking to constituents. He hasn’t ruled out working for future republican campaigns.
Rubino is exactly the type of young person Wyoming Republican Party Chair Tammy Hooper thinks the party should invest in, and she thinks the GOP should work to expand the involvement of young people. Not only because they’ll take over eventually, but also because they’ll help keep the party relevant.
TAMMY HOOPER: Older people usually that are at the helm perhaps have a different focus. All these younger people, maybe they’re just starting out married life or have young children. And so they bring that perspective back, where a lot of times, issues that, as you maybe aren’t a parent anymore, you’re not so involved in particular segments of society, maybe education.
MARTINEZ: Few people understand the young Republicans in Wyoming better than Jason Whitman. He’s active in the Young Republican National Federation, and also serves as the Chairman for Wyoming Young Republicans. Most people in his organizations agree on the need for small government and are primarily worried about the economy, but there’s a trend among young Republicans to adopt a more libertarian interpretation of the Constitution. They advocate minimal regulation and maximum personal freedoms across the board, which can deviate from traditional social values. Whitman says people of that ilk often have no problem supporting the legalization of marijuana.
JASON WHITMAN: Another major issue of course is the issue of gay marriage and civil unions. A lot of young people are a little bit more tolerant of that in terms of saying well you know I think civil unions are fine.
MARTINEZ: But College Republican Sam Rubino doesn’t expect that viewpoint will do much to steer the GOP in the future, especially if libertarian-thinkers continue to feel disenchanted with the two-party system and don’t engage in it.
RUBINO: Those who take an active role in the Republican Party are gonna be dominated by, I will say it, the Christian right. And their view point is that gay marriage should not be allowed – protect the sanctity of marriage – and abortion should not be allowed because life begins at conception. And that’s gonna be the argument for staunch Republicans now and into the future.
MARTINEZ: Rubino and his peers have just a few more days to make that argument before the nation decides who’s going to take the helm till 2016.
For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Rebecca Martinez.