As election nears, candidates court millennials

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By Christopher Booker and Connie Kargbo

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: At the University of South Florida, in Tampa, it would be difficult to  find a young person who hadn’t been told by candidates, canvassers, or a fellow students that their votes are needed and that their votes are important.

ABBY AFSAHI: If you are interested you can go to website and they send you emails when they are in town or at the event.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: USF and its 40,000 students are on the receiving end of a relentless political courtship, occurring at college campuses across the battleground states.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have visited. Both knowing Millennials in Florida now outnumber Baby Boomers.

There are over a quarter million Millennials registered to vote here in Tampa and surrounding Hillsborough county. They are not only the most diverse voting bloc in Florida, they are also the most independent.”

While 38 percent are registered Democrat and 23 percent are registered Republican, a sizable 35 percent of voters 18 to 35 are registered Independent, what Florida calls “no party affiliation.”

MARIANNE MENDOZA: We’ve had record numbers of voter registrations on campus. There’s been at least, at one point in time, five organizations trying to register people to vote.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Marianne Mendoza is one of those registered Independents. 2016 Is her first time voting in a presidential election.

What’s the political mood like on campus?

MARIANNE MENDOZA: It’s really divided, I would say.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Mendoza, a junior majoring in political science, helped distribute and collect ballots for the university’s final straw poll organized by student government and other campus groups

Clinton received 53 percent of the vote and Trump, 25 percent.  The remaining 22 percent went to either Libertarian Gary Johnson, Green party candidate Jill Stein or other candidates.

SUSAN MACMANUS: To say that they don’t like the two-party system as it stands today is putting it mildly.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Susan MacManus is a political science professor at USF.

SUSAN MACMANUS: The biggest question mark of Millennials,  there are two, actually. One is, will they turn out? The second part is, will they lean as heavily Democrat as they have in the last two elections, where president Obama was a candidate?

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: On this campus, the outreach by the Democrats is a bit like a hybrid automobile, a combination of old fashioned campaign canvassing and new communication technologies.

KUNOOR OJHA: Tactically, there’s really, like, no special sauce. There is no secret. We just want to make sure that we are talking to young people wherever they’re at.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Kunoor Ojha is the national student organizing director for the Clinton campaign.

On the final day of Florida voter registration, the Clinton camp enlisted actress Danai Gurira, best known for her part on the hit TV show “The Walking Dead.”

KUNOOR OJHA:  Obviously voter registration is super, super important. But we’re also making sure that we’re communicating online, where young people are getting most of their news.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Ojha, who worked for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries, says she joined the Clinton team, because it adopted issues central to the Sanders campaign, like a 15 dollar an hour minimum wage or free public college tuition for middle class families.

Kunoor Ojha: It really is about the issues. This is the most progressive platform that the Democratic party has ever seen. Part of that was because of negotiations between senator Sanders and secretary Clinton. But a lot of that was, you know, driven by young people. They were a huge part of his base. And the fact that there issues were, you know, codified in the party platform really, really meant a lot to them.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: We reached out to the Trump campaign about its efforts to appeal to Millennials, but no one was made available.

USF college Republican chairman Chris Happel says the very nature of Trump’s candidacy is attracting young voters.

CHRIS HAPPEL: Well, I think he’s brought a lot of people who would not even consider  voting Republican to our side. They understand that Washington is broken, and they want someone who can go in and not just be like, the typical politician, who will go in and say hope and change during the election, and then just sit in office and do nothing. They want someone who they can believe will go in there, and try and actually do something.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: while Happel supports Trump, he concedes that he struggles with the Republican party label.

CHRIS HAPPEL: I’m more economics and foreign policy and immigration, that’s kind of how I vote. I don’t like identifying myself as a member of a party, ’cause I think I have a lot of mixed beliefs within being a conservative. So like a lot of Millennials, I really couldn’t care less about what happens with gay marriage, because I just don’t think the government should be involved in general, which is different from the national Republican party.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: What do you think the Republican party has to do to evolve in order to grow?

CHRIS HAPPEL: I think we have to do a better job of reaching out on social media, and just appealing to that voter block rather than, like, the typical party member, who’s a baby boomer and votes Republican every election. The Democratic party has been doing it really well for a long time, and Hillary Clinton’s doing it again. I mean, every time I go on youtube, it’s a Hillary Clinton ad before the video that I’m trying to watch.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: But unmatched social media might is of little concern to registered Republican and first time voter noel Cantrell.

Do you think your decision to support Donald Trump was driven more by the candidate or by the issues?

NOEL CANTRELL: By the issues, yes. He caused me to get involved in politics, because he’s an outsider, and that’s one thing I really do like about him is that he is he matches up with more of the Republican values than, you know, liberal values. We need to focus on America. And we need to help ourselves first, because our country’s going down lately.  It’s just, like, if you think about it with an airplane, how they say, ‘you need to put on your oxygen mask before you put on someone else’s.’

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Have you found yourself having to defend him and your support for him?

NOEL CANTRELL: Yes, I have. Yes.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: And so what do you usually say?

NOEL CANTRELL:  From the other students. I tell them, ‘you know, I can’t defend everything he says. He’s not the best candidate, but he’s the candidate we have. So we need to support him.’

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: If Donald Trump loses, what do you think happens to you as a participant in the political process?

NOEL CANTRELL: I think right now if Hillary Clinton wins this election, next election there will be  even a bigger movement, because it’s been the same-old, same-old for a while. And people are ready for a change.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER USF graduate Ahmad Saadaldin says he’s not willing to wait until 2020. He’s voting for Green party nominee Jill Stein, as neither the Republican nor the Democrat appeal to him.

AHMAD SAADALDIN: These cannot be our only two options. When we go to the grocery store, there are a hundred brands of cereal. There’s a cereal aisle, okay? But for president, it’s like we only consider two brands, red or blue. And I think that’s, that’s done for. Americans don’t, you can see it in the polls, americans want a change.”

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: No one from the Gary Johnson campaign responded to our requests for comment.

SUSAN MACMANUS: So that brings me to a good question that y’all should discuss.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Each election cycle, professor MacManus requires students to volunteer at least 20 hours for a local, state, or national campaign.

SUSAN MACMANUS: Any candidate who comes in, or a candidate representative that comes in and wants to make an appeal for volunteers for my class. If they don’t talk about issues, they’re out of the picture.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Sara Guerrero, a sophomore  in MacManus’ class registered as a Republican earlier this year to vote for home state senator Marco Rubio in Florida’s presidential primary, and she interned for the state Republican party.

SARA GUERRERO: I really did not think trump would win the nomination.  I went to my boss and I was, like, ‘hey, like, look, like, I love this job. I love organizing events. I love talking to people, you know. But I cannot do this. Like, I morally cannot support a candidate that just I in no way agree with on absolutely anything.’ So I quit that job, and it was funny. He says to me, he goes, ‘you know, good luck, you know, in politics you’re never gonna find a candidate that you agree with entirely.’ And I’m, like, ‘okay, well it’s not trump so.’

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Trump’s promise to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and build a wall along the US border with Mexico drove her from the Republican party.  Guerrero moved from colombia to Florida when she was three, and then she and her parents became US citizens.

SARA GUERRERO: Hillary Clinton was not my top pick it’s strategic voting at this point. I’m dedicating my entire life to either undoing what trump does with immigration or furthering what Hillary Clinton does. Socially, like that’s what matters to me now. Immigration reform, that’s it for me.

CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Do you think there’s anything the Republican party could do to bring you back to the party?

SARA GUERRERO: Not alienate, like, an entire minority. Okay, me as, like, a Latino, female, Millennial, it’s hard for me to even explain why I would be a Republican. I mean, why would I? But  I feel like I morally lean Democrat and then, like, economically lean Republican. So we’ll see.

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