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Young Conservatives Feel Left Out

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Bettina Inclan, 29, who was a Republican Party "victory director" with McCain's campaign in Miami-Dade, just found a job as a communications and outreach director for the nonprofit activist organization Citizens in Charge, which pushes states to enact legislation through ballot initiatives and referendums and is led by a weekly columnist for the conservative Web site TownHall.com.

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She says she would never have sought work with the reigning party.

"My family sacrificed everything to come to this country so the government wouldn't interfere with their lives," Inclan says. "I am not caught up in the hype of Obama. When you don't buy into whatever everyone else is doing, they wonder, 'Why aren't you with the cool kids?' "

In a New York Times column last June, David Brooks wrote that a new commentariat of young conservative writers -- such as Julian Sanchez, Megan McArdle and Will Wilkinson -- has come of age "as official conservatism slipped into decrepitude . . . put off by the shock-jock rhetorical style of Ann Coulter."

Scott Keeter, survey research director at the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, suggests there may be broad reasons why Republicans are not in sync with millennials. "I don't want to go too far and say this is a lost generation for the Republican Party," Keeter says. "But it's a serious portent that [young people's affection for the Democratic Party] is not dependent on Obama -- it's a function of demographic shifts, and that this generation came of age when the Republican brand has been damaged."

Here's what the GOP is up against: Analysis of network exit polls by The Washington Post and Pew show that in terms of both party identification and vote margin, the Democrats' advantage over Republicans among voters younger than 30 is as large as it has been in more than three decades. Looking at party affiliation, for instance, in 2008, 46 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds identified as Democrats, 27 percent as independents and 27 percent as Republicans, about the same as the breakdown in 1972. But as recently as 2000, there was much more parity: 36 percent were Democrats, 29 percent independents and 35 percent Republicans.

At the Union Pub, Dustin Siggins, 24, says he sometimes uses humor to deflect the awkwardness of being on the margins of his generation. "I met a girl today at the gym from Boston College. She was getting a law degree from George Washington. She was cute," he says. "But she wants to work for the ACLU, and I said, 'Oh, you're one of those.' "

Later, in a phone interview, Siggins says he struggles with some of his party's more culturally orthodox ideals. "Because I am in this generation and was raised in a pro-gay-marriage era, I am only a little bit against gay marriage, but only a little, like 53 percent to 47," he says. "I have about a dozen gay friends, 30 or 20, and they would all back me up. In college, I used to have lunch with them. . . . We went ice skating once."

Some are trying to bolster the youth movement, one instant message at a time.

Peter Suderman, 27, and Conor Friedersdorf, 29, both of the District, were recently laid off from jobs at the now-defunct Web magazine Culture11.com, which had a conservative-Libertarian bent. Now, with about $250 each a month due in student loan payments, and money saved from their previous jobs, they are scrambling for new gigs.

Suderman settled into his home office one day recently to IM with Friedersdorf. "I see liberal reporter friends from small publications who are covering White House press conferences who are my age or a bit older," Suderman said. "Used to be, that publication would not get into the White House or not get the information."

But he and Friedersdorf, reveling in their underdog status, have a plan. They want to start a right-of-center journalism site, something that features deeply reported stories and relies on the investigative skills of their readers to "crow d-source" articles. So, they start tapping away on their computers, slowly elbowing their subculture's way back into the fray, to the sounds of Gmail's IM alerts ringing back and forth.

Polling director Jon Cohen and polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.


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