Millennials, Suit Up

Since the snowy surprises of Iowa and New Hampshire - in which a tripling and doubling of youth voter turnout, respectively, turned many heads - the press has done an awkward dance with the youth vote, struggling to pick a narrative that adheres to the conventional wisdom of youth-as-disengaged or alternative of the "Millennial Makeover," as NDN friends Morley Winograd and Michael Hais call it. As coverage has moved to emphasizing the roles of Latinos and economically-hurting voters, excitement about the youth vote has waned a bit. I was reminded this weekend, however, by some great press coverage that hit close to home - literally.

First, Friday's numbers from Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz in my home state of Connecticut confirmed NDN's argument that the Millennial Generation will be a remarkable boon for progressives going forward. While the youth vote was "decisive" in the Connecticut primary and reflected a surge of interest in that competitive race, the excitement has continued well beyond February. Since May, the number of newly registered voters nearly matches the increase before the primary - and among 18-29-year-olds there have been 4.3 Democrats for every one Republican.

As will be emblemized elsewhere across the country, the amplified youth turnout could be especially important in Connecticut's toss-up Fourth District race between New England's lone Republican, U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, and his Democratic challenger Jim Himes. Shays won close races to Diane Farrell in 2004 and 2006 but new registrations fueled by young people more than double the margin by which Farrell lost in 2006 and reflect the impact of Obama, the most Millennial-friendly candidate in to date, is already having at the top of the ticket. Further, Himes is an internationally-raised Spanish speaker who left his VP spot at Goldman-Sachs to work as a non-profit exec in affordable housing - a not-quite-Millennial who speaks the civic notes that appeal to the internationally-focused and civically-minded Millennial Generation (see Melissa's recent blog post). Himes's campaign manager, Maura Kearney, entered politics during the new media explosion of the Lamont campaign. The Himes people, it seems, get it.

So what does Republican State Chairman Chris Healy have to say about the new voters and potential for swinging the Fourth?

Healy said that new voter registrations do not always lead to voter turnout.

"Just because you suit up, it doesn't mean you'll show up," he said.

I know that I, and many of my peers from all over, are suited up and ready to play hardball this fall. As EJ Dionne argued in Friday's Washington Post, the conventional wisdom on the youth vote has lagged behind 2008's remarkable evidence to the contrary. Dionne predicts this will be "the year the youth vote arrives" and believes that the youth vote can "make a difference in Barack Obama's favor." I argue that the youth vote will make a difference for more than just Obama this November; expect it will impact nail-biter down-ticket races like CT-04 as well.