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Can Young 'BarackStars' Rock the Vote?

Obama drew a crowd of young fans at an event in New York City (Getty).

Barack Obama raised some eyebrows earlier this month when he skipped a Democratic debate in Iowa sponsored by the AARP and focused on senior issues. His campaign said the decision was in keeping with its policy of attending only Democratic National Committee-sponsored debates, but the move carried some risks given that older voters tend to turn out at disproportionately high rates in the Iowa caucuses.

Making Young Voters Count

A recent memo from Barack Obama's campaign manager took aim at a familiar part of the Iowa landscape -- a straw man. To explain away any apparent deficit his candidate faces in Iowa, David Plouffe declares that polls are inaccurate gauges of the status of the race for the Democratic nomination, because they consistently underestimate the "strength of Barack's support among younger voters." Read more on young voters..

It is clear, though, that Obama's Iowa campaign believes it can more than make up for any potentially snubbed seniors with a vigorous effort among the state's younger voters, who it believes are an ideal target for a youthful candidate with a message of generational change. The campaign is not only targeting the state's college campuses (Obama visited the University of Iowa Wednesday) but also has a program aimed at high school students, dubbed "BarackStars" -- Iowa election rules allow anyone to vote in the caucus who will be 18 by the time of the general election, which means that many high school seniors are eligible to caucus. After giving a foreign policy speech outside Iowa City to a crowd of more than 1,000 Tuesday night, Obama stayed afterward to have a private meeting with about 90 area high school students to encourage them to drum up support among classmates.

But there are limits to the youth strategy. Under Democratic caucus rules, each of the state's roughly 2,000 precincts carries a predetermined number of delegates, which are then apportioned based on the share of support each candidate receives in the precinct. That means that a candidate does not necessarily benefit much from running up big totals in a given precinct -- a hard truth encountered by other candidates who sought to score big in the college towns of Ames and Iowa City, including Bill Bradley in 2000 and Howard Dean in 2004.

Then there is the calendar. The caucus date is still up in the air, but the pressures of other states' primaries being moved earlier is likely going to push it into the first week of January, if not earlier. That means that most college students are going to be at home on winter break or off traveling -- Iowa State's spring semester starts Jan. 14 (the date the caucus was scheduled for before other states started moving their primaries up) and the University of Iowa's starts on Jan. 22. Students from Iowa could caucus in their hometowns, which would disperse college support across the state so that it counted more for candidates. But it would deprive candidates of the potential votes of the many students who live out of state, who are allowed to vote in the caucus -- roughly 35 percent of the University of Iowa's 30,000 students come from out of state, as do 30 percent of Iowa State's 26,000 students. (Much of this out of state influx comes from Obama's hometown of Chicago, as suggested by the sea of Cubs caps and T-shirts in evidence at Obama's University of Iowa event Wednesday.)

Then there is the matter of relying on a demographic contingent that is notoriously fickle when it comes to political engagement -- particularly when it comes to the caucus, which requires an hour or two attendance on a weekday evening, not just a quick 10 or 15 minutes at the polls. At the University of Iowa event, which drew several hundred students, one student, Des Moines native Alyssa Peters, said she was definitely going to go to the caucus to support Obama. "When I heard him the first time, I had goosebumps," said the senior art major.

But others in attendance were less enthusiastic. Scott Erickson, a 19-year-old freshman from Wisconsin, said he probably wouldn't participate in the caucus even if he was in Iowa City when it took place. "I'm not that big into politics. It's not a priority right now," said the sports medicine major, adding that he knew of only one big Obama fan in his dorm, a student who "watches a lot of C-SPAN."

So why was Erickson attending the Obama event in the first place? "Our rhetoric class teacher wanted us to come," he said.

--Alec MacGillis

By Washington Post editors  |  October 4, 2007; 3:40 PM ET
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Whenever I get depressed about the inevitability of the Hillary Campaign, and the incomprehensible desire for that end by (especially) the Washington Post, I just need to read the comments posted on these pages. In every pro-hillary half-a$$ed reporting story, you see hundreds of comments from PrObamans. In every murkily reported anti-Obama piece, you see the same. We need to flood every news venue with this sort of chatter. The blogs and the regular media. Every chance we get we need to make our voices heard.

The Washington Post, along with its peers, should all be ASHAMED of themselves. POOR POOR reporting. Newspapers and television news across the country have completely failed us as an institution. The Fourth Estate is supposed to be a guardian of truth, and a voice for the voiceless. You've been nothing but a mouthpiece for the richest of the rich and the most powerful of the powerful. What happened to the underdog story? What about the regular guy from the broken home who makes good and becomes the first black president of the United States? All I've seen from you is analysis of Hillary Clinton's body language and fashion choices. Yet you seem dead set on having her as our next president. I mean, we've obviously had great success with dynastic presidencies - right?

Objective reporting does not mean every lunatic on the street gets a voice. It also does not mean that EVERY story has a bad side or a negative spin...except if its a story about a black politician running for president, I guess.

Posted by: Nemotoad | October 8, 2007 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Every time Dbama speaks it is a positive message yet it seems that allthe attention is spent trying to find something negative but whenJohn Edwards made a remark on the drudge report that their will be no young black men left either they will be dead or in jail no media challenge him on that comment so lets be fair an give credit for Obama good judgement verses some others who got us in this mess using their expereince.

Posted by: kearnsa2 | October 7, 2007 9:41 AM | Report abuse

As an Iowan and a senior, I state unequivically that I did not feel snubbed because Senator Obama did not appear at the AARP forum. And - as a voter from a predominantly Republican part of the state, I can assure you that I will be caucassing for Senator Obama on whatever date the caucas will be. In addition, in a county that hardly ever can find a volunteer to be Democratic County Chair, we have an Obama County Chair. I think your article is misleading. Do not underestimate the depth of Iowa's Democratic caucas attendees.

Posted by: dagrosa | October 6, 2007 9:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm so glad to see some reality in most of the comments posted so far. I've been reading WashPost's articles recently and have been quietly despairing over the less-than-enthusiastic coverage of his campaign.

Like Boutan, I'm from Sydney, Australia and think all this Hillary hyping is a tad too in-your-face. And like Boutan, I've followed American politics very closely, and do understand the allure of the first woman president of the USA. However there is nothing inevitable about a Hillary candidacy and I agree that Barack Obama possesses the personal integrity and vision to make not only America but the world just a little bit better than it is today.

Also - the inexperience tag on Obama is quite unfair. If he possesses the necessary qualities to be president - and goodness knows he has bucketloads - then the skills and gravitas will come as a matter of course. I do hope there is an Obama revival soon - in the media particularly (remember how smitten you all were when he flirted with his presidential candidacy? He's not any different a person or candidate now).

Posted by: phat_flip8 | October 6, 2007 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Every once in a great while, a new candidate comes along to renew the American Dream. He (or she) will need integrity, vision, leadership, eloquence, and compassion to be the President that America needs to shake loose some bad habits and hangers-on and actually move forward.
This year, Barack Obama is that man. He has all the tools and he has the grassroots support. It would help if the media actually covered what's happening, but there obscene catering to power won't stop us. He will win Iowa, finish strong in NH, and everyone will open their eyes to the actual dynamic of Hillary vs Barack. Who will they choose? If they consider the two of them dispassionately, it is a very easy choice.

Posted by: RSchoumacher | October 6, 2007 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Count me in on the Obama bandwagon - the man speaks truth to power, the power of the American people. His amazing ability to make each person feel personally involved in the stakes of our own future transcends age, gender and every other demographic. This is his strength. The crowds he addresses grow ever larger because he leaves his listeners wanting to know more. The road to the White House cuts all the way through our nation, and he wants us to go along with him!

Imagine replacing our fear of the future with hope for tomorrow. This is how we heal our ailing country.

We've known Hillary a long time. Frankly, I've yet to hear anything from her that I haven't already heard from someone else.

Posted by: drrunkle | October 6, 2007 5:44 PM | Report abuse

I am a 60 year old retired inner city school teacher, one of many "Seniors" who don't subscribe to AARP but do vote and get involved in campaigns. There are thousands of us involved in the Barack Obama campaign. What is significant is that we lived through many administrations, including JFK's and Bill Clinton's. We recognize the urgent need for real change in our country, even more than the enthusiastic, first-time campaigners. Hilary will not change anything. I think that is why the main stream media pushes her so much. They want to retain the status quo. They are doing fine!!! But the MSM is out of touch with the actual people of America, who cannot stand it any more. To quote an old school song, "There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear." It is not clear to YOU that a new movement is emerging to take back our democracy, to have a government that actually works for us. Barack Obama is the leader of that movement. No matter how you all try to marginalize and diminish him. He's the real thing.

Posted by: anitapreer | October 6, 2007 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Youth is inexperienced as is the candidate they support. He's a good man but given four years more in the Senate he's likely to carry
more weight with the older people who actually go out and vote.
This time I am voting for gender. We've never had such a viable woman up for President and I am a woman. Obama shows little understanding of woman's issues. I am
one of those women who made it possible for women to have good professions, credit cards, buy houses. But, child care still costs a fortune. We have no universal childcare which our government did provide during WWII.
We women are still murdered by our husbands and boyfriends. We still earn 79¢ for every dollar men earn. We still are raped and attacked by men. Groped at in their places of employment and discriminated against medically.
At least Hillary knows what a woman is up against in our society.
Europe has universal childcare and medical care and old age homes that are funded from medical insurance. Who gets old? Mostly women. Even elder care is a woman's issue.

Posted by: LibertySpinner | October 6, 2007 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Is it too much to ask The Washington Post to be a little more fair in their coverage of Barack Obama. I am a senior citizen who helped John Kennedy in the election of 1960. It is obvious to many people, except most of the media, that there is something special happening with Obama's candidacy.

He is capturing the the attention of young people, folks in their 30's and 40's, as well as us "experienced" voters. No matter we we go Barack's name seems to come up all the time. It's great to talk politics with members of different generations, and I am suprised to see us agree that Barack offers our country the most hope than any other candidate.

It is remarkable because these discussions, about politics, rarely took place before. To tell you the truth, I have not been so energized by such a dynamic candidate since JFK. I really believe that Obama offers integrity and good judgment, just what America needs.

To the journalists out there, I woulk like you to take a few minutes and listen to what the people are saying about their hopes and dreams of America's future, without the bias of an 'inevidable' candidate rattling around in your brain.

Please, give Barack a fair shake, he may very well be our next President of the United States.

Posted by: WashingtonPete | October 6, 2007 3:15 PM | Report abuse

The Washington Post has become so intoxicated by Hillary that it has resorted to publishing drummed up polls that are meant to masquarade as science.

Clinton beating Obama 53% to 20%?

Only if you analyze the poll's own raw date do you discover that those so called Hillary supporters include a subset of about 400 "lean democrats" - not likely voters, not people who use cellphone instead of lindlines, not over a quarter of "lean democrats" questioned - and certainly not the growing number of repulicans and independents who are willing to switch parties just to vote for Obama.

At this point, I am beginning to like the Post's and the rest of the MSM's blather about Hillary's inevitability, if only because I salivate in anticipation of seeing the MSM fall flat on its bloated, egotistical face when she proves as "inevitable" as the existence of WMDs in Iraq.

Hillary is in no way inevitable. Like all missions impossible, she will self-destruct. Her lack of personal integrity will take care of that soon enough.

The only question is whether she will self-destruct in time for the primaries or for the general election. For America's sake, I hope the former is true.

Posted by: Lioness1 | October 6, 2007 1:48 PM | Report abuse

I think I am about as balanced as a person can get when it comes to American politics... because I am not an American, and I live in Sydney Australia.

I do follow it CLOSELY and let me say this...

The bias in your main stream media towards Hillary Clinton is so ridiculous that it is a humorous joke in many circles in Sydney.

The funniest part is that it is even more concentrated in Washington, and the reporters (even Chris Cilliza who I quite enjoy reading) seam OBLIVIOUS to their own bias!

Time will tell on election day... and the sense I get is that Obama's movement on the ground is real and gaining momentum, despite the attempted "inevitability" that Hillary and her media friends are trying to drum up.

Posted by: Boutan | October 6, 2007 8:33 AM | Report abuse

I am so happy to nopw that people other than I (apparently LOTS of people!) have noticed the preponderance of HRC coverage -- all glowing -- and the lack of positive coverage of the other candidates (and their wives). I am a passionate supporter of Barack Obama. Just watched Kennedy's June 10, 1963, speech at American University (thank God for C-Span) and it could have been delivered by Obama. He is the only candidate who offers a real and forward moving America, a return to principles that have, by and large, guided out country for over 200 years. And, P.S., I am no spring chicken! Senator Clinton is smart and politically savvy. Tant pis. When she signed on for the flag burning legisation, I was gone as far as she is concerned. We are all talking to each other on the internet. We should be out out out on the street! I amy even go to Philadelphia.

Posted by: LTM6463 | October 5, 2007 9:44 PM | Report abuse

Two observations. One, not to be overly disparaging, but to act as though a sports medicine major is a useful gauge of political interest is pretty ridiculous.
Second, I think the Obama campaign is targeting the youth vote, but I believe the youth vote encompasses a lot more than high school seniors and college students. I graduated from college 4 years ago and am an Obama supporter. I mean, honestly, we're talking only about 17-22 year olds here. I think his campaign is reaching out to all 20-somethings, 30-somethings, etc. as the 'youth vote' - I think the numbers are higher than this post suggests. I know the 65+ crowd caucuses more, but if given the proper inspiration, I'm sure there are more under 40 folks to compete with their vote. Not to mention, I'm hard pressed to believe that the 65+ crowd is really going to pull the lever for a woman when they get behind the curtain.

Posted by: squintz | October 5, 2007 7:29 PM | Report abuse

I think its wise that Barack is focusing on the younger generation because most of the votes do come there i think its a strategic plan into winning himself votes. I don't know why people say he hasn't had any thing bad about him i see him trying to play it safe..... Barack "08"

Posted by: goku433 | October 5, 2007 11:09 AM | Report abuse

After reading the linked bit about not polling cell phone users I have to add this:
If it is possible to poll on cell phones, why don't they? I don't get this issue. Would this not be better than guessing that they are the same as landline owners? Just because they broke that way in the past in a general election, might not mean that they will break that way in a caucus. So young people didn't like Bush... that does not mean there are not differences between the landliners and cell phoners in a party nomination fight. To say young people are all the same whether they have a landline or not... that is a very big assumptions that could create a huge flaw in the data. Young people with cell phones probably are more independent from their parents. Landline owners more likely still live at home. They could be very different types of people. So poll the cell phones.

Posted by: goldie2 | October 5, 2007 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Where would Hillary be without Bill? She will be the shadow President if she were to actually win. She can't do this without him, and that is a shame. If she could win this nomination without Bill, then I might say she would have the leadership skills to be a successful President, but I don't think she is the right one that we need right now, unfortunately. She won't be able to get Republicans to cooperate with her to get bills passed. Will anything get done? She has done very little in the Senate and her health care initiative in the past failed. Until she finds that something inside her to help her rise above just being a smart politician, people think she is phony. Obama is the naturally great leader who knows how to reach out and get something done. Hillary will always need Bill to do that for her. And just to comment on this post... there are plenty of seniors for Obama.

Posted by: goldie2 | October 5, 2007 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Get out of your DC offices and watch what's happening on the ground. The WaPo listened to the Bushies, "Oh we'll be welcomed in Iraq with flowers" and helped sell the War. Now they listen to Washington Dem establishment, "Hilary's a lock" and they're helping to sell Hilary. If Hilary wins, the 30 year culture wars continue. If Barak wins....America will wake up to a new world.

Posted by: thebobbob | October 5, 2007 1:14 AM | Report abuse

I am a female senior citizen and completely agree with the post by CLMMIT: Hillary is being shoved down our throats by the media. I too am tired of it. Let's all do our best to make their so-called "objective reporting" backfire during the primaries. As they say, may the best candidate win, male or female; but in this case, that best candidate happens to be a man with integrity, Barack Obama.

Posted by: vivaverde | October 4, 2007 11:11 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the posters who assert that the coverage by much of the media--especially the Washington Post and ABC News--seems to take every opportunity to belittle the Obama campaign while always assuring that the Clinton campaign is covered as favorably as possible. Please consider some fairness in the three months before the primaries and caucuses begin, with more emphasis on the candidates' character, judgement and positions on issues--instead of just more and more questionable poll results.

Posted by: cpaustin408 | October 4, 2007 10:32 PM | Report abuse

It's not fair that the media doesn't give Obama credit for anything. He is the only candidate that is being critique. Definitely, Hillary is the candidate that is being sholved down our throats. I am just tired of it. All of this will back fire during the primary. Obama has two to fight against: Hillary and Bill. What a shame. Why is Bill attacking Obama?

Posted by: CLMMIT | October 4, 2007 9:35 PM | Report abuse

It's not fair that the media doesn't give Obama credit for anything. He is the only candidate that is being critique. Definitely, Hillary is the candidate that is being sholved down our throats. I am just tired of it. All of this will back fire during the primary. Obama has two to fight against: Hillary and Bill. What a shame. Why is Bill attacking Obama?

Posted by: CLMMIT | October 4, 2007 9:34 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with raph., as it seems all the media is outdoing themselves in pro hillary propaganda and posting at least something negative about Obama even in so-called positive articles.
for over a year we have been slammed with constant drumming of the wonders of Hillary and yet, anything written on anyone else has to have something negative in it.
It is tiring and we are sick of it.
Anyone who cannot figure out that the press is not just for Hillary and churning out propaganda for her is someone who is probably not out of grade school yet. Everyone gets the message loud and clear for months.
I don't think it's too much to ask you to put down your Hillary pompoms for once and just write something nice about the other candidates, even Obama, who seems to be your main dumping person.

Posted by: vwcat | October 4, 2007 9:03 PM | Report abuse

How about one completely positive story about Obama. Or at least one that ends on a positive note.
WashPo seems to think that trying to get young people involved is morally wrong or something.

Posted by: raphifarasat | October 4, 2007 6:06 PM | Report abuse

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