Young Republicans Say Group Losing ‘Nerd’ Image
CHICAGO (AP) _ Young Republicans gathering for their national convention say membership is at an all-time high, but they still have an image problem: Many people think of them as ″nerds.″
″Whenever there’s a joke about young Republicans, it’s usually about nerds,″ said Jan Scott of suburban Mount Prospect, who is co-chairing the five-day biennial convention expected to draw 1,000 members through Sunday.
‴Saturday Night Live’ has not helped us. We’re pretty normal, everyday American people, not a bunch of kooks,″ Mrs. Scott said.
″For a long time the problem we had was not in what we believed in but how we presented it,″ said Bill Kerr, of suburban Schaumburg, the convention’s other co-chairman.
″Being conservative doesn’t mean being an elitist country club member. It just means being middle class,″ Kerr said. ″The typical Young Republican is in his mid to late 20s, professional, college-educated and hoping to fulfill the stereotyped image of the American Dream.″
Despite image problems, President Reagan’s 1984 election victory helped bolster the credibility of the 52-year-old group, whose members are 18 to 40 years old.
″It surprised everyone ... that Reagan’s strongest voting group was in the 18-to-24 age group. We’re now looking at changing the whole majority well into the next century,″ Mrs. Scott said.
Young Republican leaders’ loyalty to Reagan and enthusiasm for the New Conservatism were plain as they gathered at a downtown hotel for the convention’s Wednesday night opening.
″We believe in the Reagan revolution,″ said Bill Scott, Mrs. Scott’s husband and chairman of the Illinois Young Republicans. ″He’s genuine. He’s got strong convictions and he sticks to his guns.″
″We’re not the party of fat cats any more, but the party of ideas and growth. ... He’s given us new hope,″ Scott said.
Membership, which has fluctuated since the organization was founded during the Depression, now stands at an all-time high of 500,000, up from 1980′s 425,000, said John Traier, secretary of the Young Republican National Federation based at Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C.
″The organization is much more professional than it used to be. It’s not as ideologically rigid,″ Traier said.
″There are a lot of people who are looking for something to fulfill their lives and we’re getting calls all the time from people who want to join,″ said Mrs. Scott.
Membership remained relatively constant even during the 1960s, Scott said. The most recent ebb - to about 350,000 members - came in 1973-74, when President Nixon resigned in the wake of Watergate, he said.
Among the guests scheduled to be at the convention are Gov. James R. Thompson and a host of national figures: Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole of Kansas; Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y.; Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole; Agriculture Secretary John Block, whose family farms in Illinois; and Donald Rumsfeld, defense secretary during the Ford administration.
The federation, the umbrella organization for an association of 45 state groups, has an annual budget of about $200,000 from the national party, Traier said. The state organizations rely largely on money they can raise themselves, he said.