Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

In Youth Pavilion, Gop Courts Next Generation

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

In Youth Pavilion, Gop Courts Next Generation

Article excerpt

With the glittering blue-green San Diego Bay as a backdrop, 19-year-old Matt Roberson painted a gray picture of his drive between home in Sacramento and classes at Santa Clara University.

There's all that smog from oil refineries, he told Reps. John Mica of Florida and George Nethercutt of Washington. Then he posed an environmental cleanup question: "How do we Republicans feel about switching to natural gas?"

Republicans feel just fine about it, the two congressmen assured him. "A good practical solution," Mica said.

But in that search for a "delicate balance" between environmental concerns and the economy, Mica cautioned, government ought to use tax incentives to encourage use of alternative fuels rather than the heavy hand of government regulations to "punish" polluters. Punishment "will close down business."

It's a moderate, soft-sell approach to Roberson and about 100 other budding young Republicans who've gathered this day in the official "Youth Pavilion" of the Republican convention. And it's one of scores of efforts by Republicans and Democrats alike to capture an elusive group: young voters.

So far in this year's campaign, polls show President Bill Clinton leading Republican nominee Bob Dole by as much as 20 percentage points among 18- to 29-year-old voters. But surveys and studies portray today's young as something of Problem Children for politicians and for politics.

They tend to be what strategists call "volatile" - easily and quickly changing among candidates. They are more likely than older generations to disdain party ties. In one survey, 44 percent called themselves "independents."

Growing up in the era of AIDS, drug wars, big federal budget deficits and an economy that offers little job security, they are coming of voting age with a more conservative world view than the baby boomers who grew up with the civil rights movement, Woodstock and Vietnam.

`Why Bother?'

The young account for about 20 percent of the electorate. But they are notoriously apathetic voters. Twenty-five years after the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18, they've largely disappeared into their dorm rooms, fast-food jobs and the Web. That's left political strategists scratching their heads. …

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