ST. PAUL, Minn. — Although the public opinion polls find Barack Obama leading John McCain by 2-1 among young voters, the 72-year-old Arizona Republican senator has youthful supporters who are looking to him for change.
"Not all of America's youth are liberal-minded; there are young conservatives, which makes it obvious that they would be supportive of McCain's policy platform," said Marsha Marotta, a political science professor at Westfield State College in Massachusetts.
At the Republican National Convention in St. Paul this week, young Republicans said they supported McCain because of his experience, proven leadership ability, willingness to find common ground with Democrats and moderate social policies.
"When I see McCain, I see experience," said Joel Fisher, a 22-year-old Texas alternate. Riley Barnes, a 21-year-old Texas delegate, agreed, saying: "He is a proven leader."
Some young supporters pointed to McCain's practicality. "Nothing against Obama. He has a good vision, but McCain's vision is more practical," said Thomas Bowling, an 18-year-old delegate from Massachusetts.
Talking about Obama, Fisher said, "He says everything people want to hear. But the problem is that he does not talk about reality." Many young Republican delegates said that the Illinois Democratic senator had ideas but no plan to implement them.
On national security issues, McCain is more willing than President Bush has been to use diplomacy and "soft power," but less willing than Obama would be, said Dr. Robert Groven, a communications professor at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.
McCain's moderate image also is attracting some Republican youth.
"I like what he brings to the party. A lot of the time we as Republicans focus more on the issues on the farther right, and it is better to have a candidate who is more moderate," Barnes said. "He is not afraid to speak his mind and stand up for what he believes in. He can definitely be considered a role model for young voters."
"Young McCain voters are still looking for change, but McCain favors a more institutional type of change rather than overall social change," Groven said.
Kimberly Dena, a 19-year-old Texas alternate delegate to the convention, agreed, saying: "I think it is substance. I'm looking for a substantive change. I look for balance in the economy. Tomorrow's jobs are our future."
Many young delegates expressed enthusiasm for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's ability to influence younger voters. "She will attract young women who want to have both a career and a family," Dena said.
That's less certain, however, according to political science professor Dr. Andrew Aoki of Augsburg College. "Palin is unlikely to have any impact on the youth vote. The evidence seems pretty clear that VP choices do not have much effect on vote choices."
"I think younger people see McCain as not relating to them, but they should look into detail," said Meghan Wadsworth, a 17-year-old delegate from Ohio.
(Boonstra, a senior at Augsburg College, Lanzendorfer, a senior at Juniata College, and Ludwig, a junior at Westfield State College, are McClatchy interns at the Republican National Convention.)
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