Youth in revolt 

Forget the Tea Party. Montana's GOP is struggling to appease a more vital demographic: young conservatives.

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If the Young Republicans have the drive and the reputation by 2012, that change may well be on its way. Sopuch believes that's the first step in creating a newer, younger, more inclusive Republican Party.

"Young people are always going to be the deciding vote," Sopuch says. "If you can get the youth galvanized under a basket of ideas and those ideas seem sane to everyone, then I think you have a winning set of ideas for a winning party. But some of these older ideas, they just rub people the wrong way."

Ultimately, however, the Young Republicans hope to affect a broader change in the GOP, and in political debates in general. They feel the current focus on extremely divisive issues make for few advances for either party—and the country—in the long run.

"One of the things that the youth want to see done is doing away with the bickering partisanship," Heverly says. "[Politicians] get absolutely nothing done. There's nothing but fighting back and forth and they focus on the extremes on both sides...They know they're never going to agree, so they're just wasting their time and our money doing it."

Republicans of all ages seem to agree that the glut of state races on deck for 2012 will be the real tell in determining the longevity of Young Republican involvement. Quandt says conservatives need to realize that harnessing the power of youth is a marathon, not a sprint. Should the party fail to keep those 18 to 40 year olds interested and involved in politics beyond Nov. 2, they'll suffer the same drop in enthusiasm among young voters that Democrats are now struggling to overcome.

click to enlarge Retirees outnumber young conservatives at most Republican events in Montana, but research from national nonprofit Rock the Vote shows enthusiasm is building among younger voters. One study found 60 percent of young Republicans plan to hit the polls in November, while interest among young Democrats has dropped to just 51 percent. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • Retirees outnumber young conservatives at most Republican events in Montana, but research from national nonprofit Rock the Vote shows enthusiasm is building among younger voters. One study found 60 percent of young Republicans plan to hit the polls in November, while interest among young Democrats has dropped to just 51 percent.

"The Republicans need to realize, we as a party need to realize, that we now have a whole new generation in our corner with us and we need to harness that power," Quandt says. "We can't just let this be a wave we're riding. This needs to be something we look at as a generational thing. This generation looks at conservatism positively; how can we keep that? What's the best way to harness that and allow it to flow to other decades? I think part of that is making sure that the party's inclusive of the young conservatives, that we're not seen as just a workhorse, that they see us also as people with good ideas."

Deschamps claims the GOP's leaders recognize that need and have plans to engage young Republicans immediately after the 2010 election, mostly through more campaign activity. He says he went before the UM College Republicans recently to spread the word that, "Number one is Nov. 2, number two is Nov. 3."

With that urgency in mind, Dogiakos says he's pushing to increase membership in Ravalli and Mineral counties, conduct more aggressive fundraising and put more young people in higher leadership roles within the party—efforts focused beyond the simple grunt work of another election cycle.

"We're definitely expanding where we are," Dogiakos says. "I'm going to make a major push to recruit precinct people out of our Young Republican group here in Missoula and in Ravalli, too. I don't see any reason not to have people who are interested, active and involved stepping into those roles."

The Young Republicans at Rowdy's show up week in and week out for a variety of reasons—love of politics, disillusionment with the status quo, a desire to influence positive change for the future. Some, like Colter Cumin, hope to run for office someday. Others, like Allie Harrison, who also serves as vice president for the Five Valleys Pachyderm Club, have already ascended the lower ranks of the local GOP and gained a notable reputation with the old guard. Like their backgrounds, their opinions on issues may differ radically; for example, Sarah Borrelli's take on marijuana—"legalize it and tax the shit out of it"—is far from unanimous among the group's membership. But they all claim their end goal is mutual.

"To motivate young voters," Sullivan says. "We're young and our generation doesn't vote."

There's a bigger picture that the Young Republicans are beginning to grasp, one that looks past 2010 and even 2012. As the inevitability of a change in leadership is gradually recognized, the socially liberal leanings of these conservatives will likely spell major change for the GOP, its platform, and its ability to attract youth. And, as young conservatives are so fond of reiterating, change isn't something that comes easy to the old guard.

"Younger people obviously are going to have more liberal ideas," Sopuch says. "They just are. That's just the nature of our progressive society. So if the new Republican Party makes their platform more inclusive of those ideas, they'll feel more accepted and feel more akin to the young Republicans or whatever the new Republican Party is going to be...The ranks will swell and the median age will drop in the membership, I can almost guarantee you that."

Dogiakos believes the changes youth will bring to the face of the GOP are simply part of answering a more immediate and pressing question for the party as a whole.

"What's next?" he says. "We're still relying on a lot of older methods for politics, for the elections. Our old methods of identifying people by phone don't work anymore because everyone has a cell phone, no more landlines. We're being outpaced because we're still doing 72-hour 'get out the vote' calls but 65 percent of the county is voting by mail-in ballots and those are going out [this] week. We're only focusing on these small chunks, and we're missing the bigger picture."

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