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Obama's Got the Youth Vote, And They Can In Fact Vote

Youthful supporters of Sen. Obama in Des Moines. (AP).

It's the online fight of the week that just won't die -- and could eventually be an effective rallying cry for Sen. Barack Obama's young supporters.

At the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Des Moines nearly a week ago, aides to Obama said that out of the estimated 9,000 who showed up at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, at least a third were Obama supporters. To which Mandy Grunwald, a longtime adviser to Sen. Hillary Clinton, said, according to the Politico: "Our people look like caucus-goers, and [Obama's] people look like they are 18. [Mark] Penn said they look like Facebook."

Penn, Clinton's pollster, added: "Only a few of their people look like they could vote in any state."

Obama supporters quickly jumped at the insult. Peter Erickson, blogging on TechPresident, pointed out that Clinton recently launched its Students for Hillary group. "Good strategy: A week after finally setting up your campaign's organization to attract young people, tell them they won't vote anyway so their presence is irrelevant," wrote Erickson. Online analysts, Republicans and Democrats alike, say the comments are politically unsavvy, especially as the importance of online social networks is still evolving. Sure, no one knows exactly what effect Facebook, or any of these sites, will have on the election or voter turnout. But if generating buzz and raising money are any indication, analysts say, it's clear that they will play some role.

"I don't know what it gets Hillary for her team to criticize young people -- and to brand themselves the candidate of the status-quo. What is more, taunting Obama about it could backfire by providing what they call in football 'bulletin board material.' I can hear Obama now: 'Hillary thinks you won't show up! Hillary thinks you're to be ignored! Hillary thinks...," Matt Lewis, the conservative blogger at the popular GOP hub, told The Trail.

Added David Weinberger, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School: "If Clinton's aides are right in their from-the-hip demographic analysis, they better hope that those young faces aren't carrying their Facebook social network with them."

Already, Facebook is the unofficial capital of anti-Clinton country, with young voters -- male and female, mostly Republicans but with some Democrats -- forming numerous groups attacking the former first lady. The comments from Clinton's top aides inspired Patrick Ruffini, a Republican strategist and former online adviser to former mayor Rudy Giuliani, to create an online petition against Clinton and her aides' "They look like Facebook" insult. Two days ago, the petition had 570 names. As of Friday morning, it's up to 2,985.

One of the newest members, Sean Taylor of Kentucky, wrote on the wall of the Facebook petition: "Barack Obama all the way! And I (and my friends) do vote, Hillary."

-- Jose Antonio Vargas

By Washington Post editors  |  November 16, 2007; 4:00 PM ET
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