Young, minority voters could be key for Democrats in Maryland
GOP also targeting those constituencies
ANNAPOLIS The success of Democrats at the polls this fall could boil down to two key constituencies that helped propel President Barack Obama to victory in 2008.
If young and minority voters turn out in similarly large numbers to two years ago, when Obama was on the ballot, Democrats likely will be rejoicing. If not, Republicans might be doing the celebrating.
And without Obama running this year, Democrats cannot count on the two blocs to turn out on Election Day and support their candidates. They might need more of a reason to vote.
"The most important thing to do is engage youth and make them feel like they're part of the process, as opposed to just a constituency that's going to be relied on for their vote," said Del. John A. Olszewski Jr. (D-Dist. 6) of Dundalk, who at 27 years old is the General Assembly's youngest member.
That means facilitating leadership development opportunities within political campaigns or urging them to run for office themselves at a young age, he said.
The state Democratic Party is attempting to recapture the enthusiasm of 2008 by establishing within the past year eight leadership councils targeted toward specific populations: blacks, Asians, Hispanics, continental Africans, Muslims, Jews, gays, lesbians and transgenders, and veterans.
"We're going to be pushing the young vote out as much as we possibly can," said Travis Tazelaar, the state party's executive director. "We're tapping into the Obama network from 2008. They were really good at getting high school kids to help out in the campaign. That was an opportunity to make sure you touched those 18-year-olds and 17-year-olds who are going to be able to vote on Election Day."
Tazelaar, 31, and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, also said the party is identifying campus coordinators at every college in the state.
But Del. Shawn Z. Tarrant (D-Dist. 40) of Baltimore said the party has to be realistic about its goals for drawing out the youth and minority vote this year.
"It is going to be difficult, there's no doubt about it," he said. "There's only one Obama."
Instead, Tarrant, who turns 45 this month, said the party should use 2006 numbers as a benchmark and try to improve on that.
It's important for incumbents to take young people under their wing on the campaign trail. Every time Tarrant goes door-knocking, he brings along two Baltimore city central committee candidates who are younger than 30, he said.
Republicans also are going hard after the votes of young people. At the state party's spring convention, they made the Teenage Republicans an official auxiliary committee under the auspices of the Maryland GOP, party spokesman Ryan Mahoney said.
"The youth bloc is definitely a group we're interested in targeting and getting our message out to, so they can hear that there's an alternative out there," he said.
One of party chairwoman Audrey Scott's main goals is to expand minority turnout among Republicans, Mahoney said. Black candidates such as Charles J. Lollar, who is running for the 5th Congressional District, are helping to do that.
Securing the youth vote is in many ways more difficult than in capturing other constituencies, said Moshe Starkmann, chairman of the Maryland Young Republicans.
Young voters want to see a consistent record from a candidate with whom they can identify, he said. That is why young Republicans did not turn out for U.S. Sen. John S. McCain of Arizona in the 2008 presidential race.
"The youth, we all knew what McCain's positions were, but we didn't trust him," said Starkmann, 32, of Rockville.
Republicans think they can win the youth vote.
"The Democrat message is very sexy," Starkmann said. "'We're going to help the poor; we're going to heal the sick; we're going to save the Earth.'" It's a very sexy, very attractive message. The problem is when you ask the question, How?' Then the Democrats turn into bumbling morons."
Although Obama's name will not be on the ballot this year, Del. Benjamin S. Barnes (D-Dist. 21) of College Park thinks young voters still will turn out to support his agenda.
"Young people understand that this [election] is a referendum on President Obama, and we're going to let our voice be heard that we understand that change doesn't happen overnight," he said, pointing to the complex legislation that Obama and the Democratic leadership have pushed through Congress in the past two years.
One selling point for Democrats is to remind their core voters about the Republican administrations of President George W. Bush and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
"It's Let businesses run wild and do what they please,' it's Stick it to the middle class,'" said Barnes, 35. "We have got to make it crystal clear the differences between what has transpired during the eight years of George Bush and the two years of Barack Obama. We have got to make it crystal clear the differences between four years of Bob Ehrlich and four years of Martin O'Malley."
In the end, it comes back to engaging individuals, whether they are eligible to vote or not, said Olszewski, who serves as the House chairman of the Maryland Youth Advisory Council, which was established in 2008 to be a voice for young Marylanders in Annapolis. The council develops a legislative proposal annually and has public hearings on issues of concern to young people.
"You need to make sure you're speaking to issues they care about," Olszewski said, pointing to teacher quality, drivers' license issues and the environment.
"And at the national level, I think if given the chance to understand what the ballooning deficit means for them that would be something they would care about."