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Generation Y: Ready to Rock the 2008 Election
"I just started hearing a lot about him last year, so I started doing my own research," says Kinkead. "I wanted to know who this guy was that everyone was talking about. I know he has a liberal voting record in the Senate, but he just seems so open-minded to me. He'll be able to work with Republicans and get stuff accomplished. Hillary Clinton has too much baggage."
Young voters helped propel Obama's win in Iowa and McCain's in New Hampshire. Exit polls in New Hampshire indicated that 31 percent of the youngest GOP voting group went for McCain, with 23 percent voting for Romney; 51 percent of young Democrats supported Obama, while 28 percent supported Clinton.
In Iowa, Obama won 57 percent of the youth vote, compared to 11 percent for Clinton.
The social networking site Facebook has been a huge hub of political interest, with students flocking to Obama on the Democratic side and Ron Paul on the Republican side. A Facebook group called Students for Barack Obama became an official part of the campaign last spring. In New Hampshire, the Obama group has more than 20 chapters in high schools and colleges, from the University of New Hampshire, the state's biggest university, to Phillips Exeter Academy.
After initially dismissing the site's value, Clinton's campaign set up a new feature this week on its Web site that allows Facebook users to ask her questions. At the last minute, in New Hampshire, the candidate added some youth events to her schedule. "I did very well with people over 45, and I didn't do as well with people under 30. I take responsibility for that," she told reporters after the Iowa caucuses.
Younger voters said in interviews that Obama speaks a language they understand, using "we" and "us," giving the image of a country undivided by social class, race or political parties. He quotes Martin Luther King Jr. on the "fierce urgency of now" to explain why he can't patiently wait his turn to run for president. Like a rebellious adolescent, his voice drips with sarcasm as he talks about how his detractors say he's not ready to be president. "They said, 'We need to stew him and season him a little more, and boil all the hope out of him.' "
Obama seems to sense that his young audiences want less detail and more inspiration. "Everyone talks about experience -- well, we've had experience and where did it get us?" said Funa Maduku, 25, an American schoolteacher working in South Africa but sitting at one of Obama's events. "He can repair our standing in the world. He'll listen to all sides and not come in with a set idea of how it should be done."
Julie Rattendi, 30, from Chelmsford, Mass., has never voted because, she says, "I've never seen anyone worth voting for." But on Saturday morning, she was in the neighboring state, among the 3,000 people who had crammed into a Nashua gym to hear Obama, because her friend told her he was a different kind of politician.
"I have listened to him and I liked what I've heard so far," said the college librarian. "I'm just looking for someone to believe in."
Staff writers Perry Bacon , Juliet Eilperin and Jose Antonio Vargas contributed to this report.