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The Facebook Primary

By Jose Antonio Vargas
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- At the start of the campaign cycle, no one knew exactly how all this YouTubing, MySpacing and Facebooking -- especially among young voters -- would affect the presidential race.

Senior aides to Sen. Hillary Clinton, it seemed, were especially skeptical. At the Jefferson Jackson dinner in Iowa last November, at least a third of of the estimated 9,000 who showed up were supporters of Sen. Barack Obama, the campaign claimed. To which Mandy Grunwald, a veteran of Clinton's team, said: "Our people look like caucusgoers, and [Obama's] people look like they are 18. [Mark] Penn said they look like Facebook."

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

But young Iowans did in fact turn out on caucus night, proving that voters under 30 will be a vital force in this election. In Iowa, more than a fifth of the Democratic caucusgoers were between 17 and 29 years old, and Obama easily trumped Clinton among young Iowans, 57 to 11 percent. They overwhelmingly preferred "change," Obama's theme, to "experience," Clinton's mantra. Indeed, if the two previous campaign cycles are any indication -- turnout of voters under 30 increased in the 2004 and 2006 elections, says Peter Levine, director of the non-partisan Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement -- this year's election will witness yet another jump in youth voter turnout.

And Facebook, which is co-hosting the GOP debate here at St. Anselms College tonight, has become a critical political hub for college students. Each candidate has a profile on it. Throughout last year, Clinton has trailed Obama in popularity. As of tonight, Obama's Facebook profile lists 191,120 supporters. Clinton, in contrast, has 58,067.

When it comes to young voters, Clinton's got a lot of reaching out to do.

Earlier today, her campaign held roundtables with undecided young Granite State residents. In Durham, she chatted for an hour with 30 young undecideds. Her site also debuted an "Ask Hillary" feature aimed directly at Facebook members. Voters can post questions this weekend, and Clinton will post video answers to the top five questions early next week.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 5, 2008; 8:41 PM ET
 
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