Can Mitt Romney get the youth vote? That’s one of the critical questions that Republicans have to face now that Romney has all but locked up the presidential nomination. And that’s the question that Karl Rove, former Bush advisor and political strategist, is hoping to answer in the affirmative.
Rove is spearheading a GOP effort to target millennial voters, those in the 19-29-age range, by launching Crossroads Generation (commonly dubbed XG). XG is a new super PAC that is an offshoot of the billionaire-backed super PAC American Crossroads. Their strategy, according to 29-year-old head Derek Flowers, is to rally young voters through social media.
He may be on to something. XG has a slick website that features a well-produced video addressing college students and recent graduates. It claims to speak for “our generation” and says, “It’s time to reclaim our future.” The website also invites young voters—specifically those in college—to share their stories, connect on Facebook and Twitter, read the facts, and “join the movement.”
“The movement,” is critical to the success of XG’s campaign. As Harvard Institute of Politics’ polling director John Della Volpe said of Millennial voters in the Forbes article: “They’re coming of age without having had a relationship with Obama. They weren’t part of that movement four years ago — and it was a movement.”
Della Volpe is right. Obama swept a crushing majority of young voters in his favor in 2008—two-thirds of them. But how did Obama do it? With a movement. He got young people on board with a powerful—but vague—message that no one could possibly disagree with. Who doesn’t want “hope” and “change” right? And as solid a candidate and savvy a leader as Romney may be, no one’s talking about any sort of grand scheme or vision that he’s bringing to the table to galvanize America.
One of Romney’s great strengths is that he’s an analyst, very sharp and tuned to finding solutions and meeting goals. It served him well in the private sector and probably helped him quite a bit at times as governor. Yet when it comes to the national stage where Americans are looking for a leader with an more inspiring, transcendent message, Romney comes across as too pragmatic, too much of a realistic problem solver. He is not enough of an idealistic revolutionary to appeal to a demographic that often thinks the idea of a revolution is pretty cool.
That could be Romney’s biggest problem with younger voters, and it’s hard to see even Rove finding a way to overcome it. Romney’s best chance is to appear as just that: America’s best chance. The XG ads and supporting super-PAC seem to think that they just need to convince voters that Romney has a better shot at getting America back on track and dealing with rising tuition costs and record levels of student loan debt. He hasn’t captured many hearts, but perhaps he can capture enough young minds to tip the voting scales in his favor.
Unlike the 2008 election, Obama’s campaign has been much more gritty this time around. So far team Obama has waged more of an in the trenches, us versus them, political fight, rather than his old unifying, transcendent vision for all Americans. The door is open for Romney to rise above the particular, concrete problems of day-to-day politics and build a movement. But can he step through it?
So far, he hasn’t been able to do so. XG and other young-voter will have to pick up some steam quick if they’re to have any significant impact on the millennial vote.