With less than 100 days left until the Nov. 4 general election, the Republican and Democratic parties are working to connect with young Alaskan voters in a presidential contest that by some accounts could see higher participation than in recent years.
According to the State of Alaska Division of Elections, the voter turnout of people between the ages of 18 and 34 increased from 40.6 percent in the 1996 general election to 47.8 percent in 2000 and 54.5 percent in 2004.
Jeff Giertz, Alaska spokesman for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barrack Obama, said the campaign is trying to build on the enthusiasm of young voters and working to construct a grassroots network of Alaska youth to help campaign.
"Young voters are very engaged and very interested in Sen. Obama's message and his campaign," Giertz said. "That certainly may be stereotypical, but it's true that young voters are one of our campaign strengths and we're going to do our best, certainly in Alaska, to keep young voters motivated and interested and participating in the campaign."
Obama's "Campaign for Change" recently opened four offices in Alaska - in Juneau, Fairbanks, Anchorage and Palmer - where local and out-of-state youth are volunteering. On Sunday, July 27, Obama volunteers went canvassing in Juneau and other locations to get word out about the campaign.
The campaign of presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain has not opened any field offices in Alaska as of yet. That is not out of the ordinary for the Last Frontier, said Alaska Republican Party spokesman McHugh Pierre.
"We have not had a presidential candidate on the Republican side open up an office here in more than 30 years," he said. "It's pretty standard. What the party does is take on the outreach role for the presidential campaign and coordinate campaign directors and all those activities that happen in the state."
The Alaska Republican Party continues working on ways to connect with young voters and increase voter registration numbers for that demographic, Pierre said.
"We're trying to reach young voters in a way that is familiar to them," he said. "We've got videos on Youtube. We've got a MySpace page. We've got Facebook. We're building friends, we're building networks and we're reaching out to young people."
Giertz said the Obama campaign hopes to keep attracting the growing ranks of young voters with his plans and proposed policies on issues important to young people, such as the economy and higher education.
"I think the youth vote and the youth turnout will live up to the hype. ... This year the level of youth participation, certainly in Sen. Obama's campaign, has increased," he said.
More people in Alaska have registered for the Democratic party than the Republican party since March, according to the division of elections, with 1,419 and 1,311 added to the lists respectively. However, over the same time period, 1,080 registered as nonpartisan and 2,776 registered as undeclared.
Obama's message is resonating with young people in Alaska and beyond because of the contentious political landscape in recent years, Giertz said.
"Overall I think young voters are very much in tune that this country has been heading in the wrong direction for a long time," he said.
Pierre said he thinks young Alaskan Republicans are just starting to get geared up for the presidential race. He said the state GOP party will be opening "get out the vote" offices around the state beginning in September.
"There's a lot of emphasis being put on the (Alaska campaigns) so we really haven't risen to the level of 'we need to get excited for a presidential candidate,'" Pierre said. "The Democrats would say the opposite and they would say, 'well people are really excited about Obama.' But Obama has a lot of outside money, a lot of outside volunteers and paid staff. They're not Alaskans."
What role the young voters will play in the outcome of the presidential election and Alaska's three electoral votes remains to be seen. Lyndon B. Johnson was the last Democratic nominee to carry the state when he was elected in 1964. Republicans have controlled Alaska's electoral votes each election since.
A Rasmussen Reports poll released July 21 had McCain besting Obama by "a very modest" single-digit lead of 45 to 40 percent in Alaska. It estimated McCain has an 80 percent chance of winning the state's three Electoral College votes.
Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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