Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly described one of those attending a Capitol Hill social event as the executive director of the Young Republicans. The man, who was not named in the article, is the executive director of the College Republicans. The article also misstated the number of signatures on an online petition advocating domestic oil drilling launched by American Solutions for Winning the Future. That petition now has more than 1.3 million signatures.

Young Republicans, Blue About the Prospects Ahead

By Krissah Williams Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

David All glanced around Top of the Hill bar and saw the future of the Republican Party. It looked dim. A who's who of young conservatives had gathered, but they were few, and they were frustrated.

Here were the executive director of the Young Republicans, and the 20-something who helped steer Fred Thompson's Internet operation, and the young woman who put Mitt Romney's Web site on the map, and the 24-year-old staffer for Newt Gingrich's American Solutions for Winning the Future, who had brought them all together to cry in their free Blue Moon beer. The crowd was mostly white and mostly male, dressed in slacks and starched shirts. For most of them, Ronald Reagan and the good times he personified for conservatives were not even vague memories.

"When Reagan was president, I was 9 years old, doing cannonballs and watching 'Rambo,' " says All, 29, who prominently displays the requisite grip-and-grin photos of himself with President Bush in the office of his own L Street consulting firm. He recalled that first Republican presidential debate of the 2008 campaign, held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California; it was a veritable Reagan love-fest, with each contender claiming to be more like the conservative icon than his opponents. They sounded like old fogies and intoned the icon's name at least a dozen times.

"For me, I don't even know what that means," All says. "The Republicans are sort of talking down to Gen-Nexters, not bringing them in."

"You don't hear Barack Obama going around saying, 'I'm John F. Kennedy.' He's saying, 'I'm Barack Obama,' " All says. "There's a reason for that. He's inspiring an entire generation, and it's a generation that's trying to change the world in 160 characters or less through text messages."

And John McCain? His campaign has never sent All a text message, he complains. It's the little things like that, along with poor communication on the big issues such as Iraq and the economy, that have caused the GOP brand to slip with younger Americans, even as they have grown more political.

Voters under 30 are more than twice as likely to identify themselves as Democrats, according to the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.

All and his friends bravely offer bromides to fight off despair:

"I think the Republican Party is staring down a very long, dark, quiet night," All says.

"It's always darkest before the dawn," says Mindy Finn, 27, who ran Romney's site.

"It's a challenging time right now, and I think there's a lot of people searching for a new identity, new leaders," says Robert Bluey, 28, a blogger who is editor in chief of the Heritage Foundation's Web site and director of its Center for Media and Public Policy. "Sometimes it will take some cleansing before it gets better."

Republicans haven't always been so disconnected. A quarter-century ago, Reagan charmed young voters and won 59 percent of their vote in 1984. In 1992, on the heels of the Reagan Revolution, voters under 30 split their allegiance about evenly between the two major parties. But every presidential cycle since then, Democrats have gained ground. This year, according to the Post-ABC poll, 44 percent of those under 30 call themselves Democrats, and only 18 percent identify as Republicans.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company