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GOP Advisers Say Presidential Candidates Will Play It Straight

August 9, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republican presidential candidates are getting some free advice from their young staffers: Don’t court the youth vote by trying to be hip.

``I think people are more interested in a strong economy than someone who can tell you if `Hootie and the Blowfish’ are going to have a strong album next time,″ said Nelson Warfield, press secretary for 72-year-old Sen. Bob Dole. (Hint: Hootie and the Blowfish is a popular rock ‘n’ roll band.)

Young people could make up 18 percent of next year’s registered voters, and Republican candidates are not about to yield those votes to baby boomer Bill Clinton, who won over 18- to 24-year-olds in 1992, when they were 11 percent of all voters.

Hap Hinman, youth director for Pat Buchanan, suggested the saxophone-playing, sunglasses-wearing antics that Clinton employed in 1992 will not work in 1996. ``Not only is it unpresidential, it’s cheesy,″ he said.

Marco Rodriguez, 28, executive director of California College Republicans, shook his head when a visitor at the College Republican National Convention asked about Clinton’s confession that he preferred boxers over briefs.

``That’s shallow,″ he said. ``We’re issue-oriented.″

Forget Elvis Presley. Young Republicans want Ward Cleaver for president.

While young Republicans are pressing the candidates and the media not to talk down to them, young Democrats say Clinton will continue to speak directly to issues affecting young people, such as education costs and public service.

``Clinton rolled up his sleeves and got to work,″ said Adam Sohn, 26, assistant press secretary for the Democratic National Committee and a former campaign staffer.

Sohn said the need to be treated like ``grownups″ means young Republicans don’t encourage candidates to deal with the issues specific to his generation. He said young people should be treated as a rightful constituency.

Republican aides said the GOP distaste for the youthful Clinton, who likened himself to John F. Kennedy and Elvis during the campaign _ depending on the event _ has enabled GOP candidates to be the everyman, not the superstar.

Matt Zandi, a recent graduate of University of California, Irvine, and national director for Young Americans for Freedom, a Republican youth group, said young GOP voters just want a traditional candidate with dignity.

``We’re all children of Ronald Reagan,″ he said.

But even Reagan’s staff kicked back and had some fun. During Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign, strategist Lee Atwater sent a courier to the MTV studios for a copy of the latest music video by rock star John Cougar Mellencamp. Months later Atwater admitted the president never watched the video, but for a week the campaign enjoyed news reports on MTV that Reagan watched rock videos in his spare time.

A greater share of young voters cast ballots in 1992 than at any time since 1972, the year 18-year-olds were given the vote. Analysts say that share will be even larger in 1996.

``You’re talking about maybe 15 or 18 percent of the electorate. That’s significant,″ said Mark Gersh, Washington director of the National Committee for an Effective Congress, an independent political action committee established in 1948.

In addition, young people tend to vote for the candidate, not the party.

Ricki Seidman worked in Clinton campaign headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., in 1992. Now she is president of Rock the Vote, a nonprofit organization aimed at getting more voters between 18 and 24 involved in political issues and to the polls.

``The sense is that voters under 25 went to Clinton in ’92, but they also went overwhelmingly for Reagan in the ’80s,″ she said. ``No one is guaranteed the youth vote.″

Clinton won 46 percent of the 18-to-24-year-olds’ vote. President Bush got 33 percent, and independent candidate Ross Perot got 21, according to Voter News Service.

Eileen Nash, 22, youth director for Indiana Republican Sen. Dick Lugar, says young voters are looking for a realistic role model.

``He (Lugar) has four children and seven grandchildren. He’s never asked me who (the grunge band) `Nirvana’ is, but I don’t doubt he knows.″

Nash said Lugar won’t try to impress young voters with pop culture knowledge. ``He’s not a circus act,″ she insisted.

But Sohn said Republicans can’t deny that Clinton’s commitment to young people won him the youth vote.

``Young Republicans are just like old Republicans,″ he said. ``There’s no dynamism.″

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