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Paul Ryan and the youth vote


Paul Ryan was officially nominated yesterday as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate. There’s a lot of excitement about the choice, some of it because of the hope that Ryan’s youthfulness can benefit the party’s image.

When you talk to young conservatives at the Republican National Convention in Tampa about their vice presidential candidate, they’re nothing short of dreamy-eyed. Ryan is about as close to a bona fide celebrity as the party’s got.  What congressman wouldn’t welcome the comparisons we heard — to stars like Paul Rudd, Ryan Gosling, and Carson Daly?

Luciana Milano, a 20-year-old page at the RNC and a rising junior at Harvard, said she loves Ryan’s image onstage, and off. “I think that Paul Ryan is one of the most inspiring and charismatic conservatives out there,” she said. “He lives by what he preaches. He’s not afraid to stand up for the criticism that he receives … whatever issue it may be that’s related to his core beliefs, he’s not afraid to explain in depth.” Milano pointed out that Ryan is the same age as Tagg Romney, Mitt Romney’s oldest son. Some young Republicans say even though Ryan doesn’t bring the racial or gender balance they’d hoped for, his youthfulness complements the Republican ticket.

It may seem like it’s been a long time coming. In 2008, Candidate Barack Obama was endorsed by actor Matt Damon, trash talked 20-somethings on the basketball court, and traded fist bumps with Michelle. But now Paul Ryan gets his pop culture game on, too. There’s one reference his admirers seem particularly excited about; Paul listed the alternative rock group Rage Against the Machine among his top music picks.

And Ryan prioritizes his physical appearance. He’s practically a spokesperson for the fitness craze P90X.

Conservative pundits are all abuzz about some of Ryan’s favorite pastimes, but extreme fitness and alternative rock aren’t all that surprising for someone who, at age 42, sits smack in the middle of Generation X.

Susan MacManus, Political Science Professor at the University of South Florida, says it’s the ‘Ryan combination’ that resonates with younger voters.

“He bounces into a room, big smile – he’s slim and trim… and yet he has a serious side to himself. A lot of college students strive for that balance in their lives,” she said.

Twenty-year-old Kristin Bradstreet is Chair of the University of South Florida College Republicans says she’s excited about what she perceives at Ryan’s well-roundedness. “Social issues are there for me. I was raised in a Baptist church but fiscal issues at this time in my life are my number one,” she said.

She appreciates that Ryan is a family man. But she also loves the policy-wonk side of Ryan, because of his focus on the economy. “I graduate this December, and I have tons of student loans. I have six months to get a job, and then start paying loans,” she said. Bradstreet didn’t spell out how Ryan would ease these worries. But she’s confident he will.

She also mentioned Ryan’s budget plan, as did John Scuito, who’s here working with the California delegation. ”I’m excited to hear Paul Ryan speak. His plan that I’ve read through is just so thorough and when he reads CBO calculations, he knows what they mean,” he said.

Scuito is the only young Republican we met who said he’d actually read Paul Ryan’s budget plan. Most  seemed happy he had a plan at all, and could talk about it eloquently.

Of course, these are the young party faithful celebrating Ryan’s fiscal policies in Tampa.

Young voters like 27-year-old Rosalie Thompson, who’s an Independent voter from Tampa, says Ryan’s youthfulness doesn’t influence her one way or the other… it’s his politics that do.

“I really think he’s turning people off but he’s trying to reach for that vote but he’s failing miserably because he knows nothing about the 99 percent,” said Thompson.

But there is an opportunity for Republicans to grab other young voters.

Polling from CIRCLE, which follows youth civic engagement, shows that first time voters between 18 and 21 years old are trending slightly more conservative than the rest of the Millennial generation.

But will Paul Ryan spend valuable time courting the youth vote? If so, Florida young Republicans have some advice for him.
“Hold events that appeal to young voters, I’m just throwing ideas out here — but concerts, get out the vote outreach, food events,” said Erik Blake.

His fellow young Republican Ralph D’Elia says Ryan needs to spread his message to young people via non-traditional news outlets. “Saturday Night Live is one that comes to mind, Barack Obama went on SNL, though I didn’t think he was particularly funny on it. I think that’s something Paul Ryan could do – go on the Daly Show or the Colbert Report… and appeal to people who are more independent.”

So who knows — maybe the debate about the national budget will move from Tampa  to Comedy Central.

This story appeared on Youth Radio's Conventions2012 blog. You can also hear it on NPR's All Things Considered.