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The 2016 Vote

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Democrats Hope to Win Millenial Vote

January 22nd 2015

House Democrats think the GOP’s agenda has given them a new opportunity to win over millennials ahead of 2016.

Even though younger voters tend to vote Democratic, the group turned out in low numbers amid the party’s midterm drubbing last November.

But now that new Republican proposals are taking a hard conservative line on the issues of immigration and abortion — bills GOP leaders have prioritized to launch the 114th Congress — Democrats see an opening to motivate younger voters and steer them into their tent.

“It’s almost as though they’re creating the strategy for us, bringing up these bills,” Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday.

A recent poll by The Washington Post and ABC News has fueled the Democrats’ optimism, finding that President Obama’s approval rating among millennials has jumped 19 percentage points since December.

Democratic leaders have been giddy over GOP divisions in the early stages of the new Congress. Republicans have been split over immigration reforms that passed last week and an anti-abortion proposal, set for a vote Thursday, that some Republicans fear will tarnish the GOP brand, particularly among women and millennials.

Those divisions were on prominent display this week when a pair of female Republicans — Reps. Renee Ellmers (N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (Ind.) — pulled their sponsorship of the bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy over concerns that language requiring rape victims to file police reports to gain an exemption to the restrictions is too draconian.

The sponsor of that bill, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), downplayed the divisions on Wednesday, arguing that younger voters are on his side of the issue.

“There’s a shift, but it’s in our favor, not against it,” Franks said of millennials’ sentiments on abortion. “Almost everyone in our party supports the basic thrust.”

But Ellmers was concerned enough about the party’s image that she’d lobbied GOP leaders — successfully — to scrap their plan to stage Thursday’s anti-abortion vote on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

House Republicans late Wednesday revamped the anti-abortion bill slated for a Thursday vote following a revolt from female members who objected to language regarding exceptions for rape.

The House will now vote on a measure sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) that prohibits federal funds for abortions, including in health benefits coverage.

Now, Democratic leaders sense an opportunity to make gains simply by highlighting the GOP’s emphasis on social issues amid a long period of middle-class wage stagnation.

“Young people ... have a libertarian streak to them, in terms of letting people — within the law and to the extent that it does not harm others — live their lives as they see fit,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said this week. “You know, gay marriage is a perfect example, where the younger generation sees that as not an issue — they don’t understand why that’s controversial.”

Republicans have also been dogged by recent news that one of their top leaders, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), had voted as a state legislator against resolutions apologizing for slavery and creating the Martin Luther King Jr., holiday — votes that resurfaced as part of a broader story that Scalise had spoken before a white supremacist group in 2002.

Most Democrats have resisted the temptation to gloat over the GOP’s troubles.

“We’re not going to get involved in the internal problems that the Republicans have,” said a senior Democratic aide.

But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already launched a campaign accusing Scalise of “cheerleading” for “an anti-Semitic, racist hate group” — and linking vulnerable House Republicans to the embattled whip.

The divisions and controversies aren’t how Republican leaders had hoped to launch the new Congress. After winning control of the Senate and picking up more than a dozen seats in the House, GOP leaders wanted to use their new power to send strong signals of resistance to Obama’s priorities in the final two years of the president’s reign.

Instead, they’ve taken up legislation that’s highlighted rifts in their own party, while recent economic gains have lifted Obama’s approval ratings to their highest levels in 18 months.

Democrats, meanwhile, have launched a new effort designed to get voters to the polls, with one component focused on millennials in particular.

The reasons are clear. Although voters ages 18 to 29 chose Democratic candidates by a margin of 54 percent to 43 percent last year, they represented just 13 percent of voters who showed up at the polls — a drop from 19 percent just two years earlier.

By launching their Policy and Communications Committee, party leaders are hoping to improve on those figures in 2016 and beyond.

“Millennials make up about 80 million Americans, approximately a quarter of the population, but turned out in the last election about half that number,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who will lead the Democrats’ effort to energize millennials. “It is exciting to find new ways for the party of the future to talk to the future, and that’s what this effort will represent.”

Mike Lillis writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.


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