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Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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July 16, 2008 11:22 AM

The search for young conservatives

Posted by David Postman

This is from Will Mari, a Times editorial intern, and friend of the blog:

It’s a pleasant summer evening at Enatai Beach Park in Bellevue. The sun is shining, dogs are barking, kids are kicking soccer balls and young Republicans are, well, socializing.

Yes, that’s right.

Twenty-something conservatives do exist, and they’re getting increasingly active, said 22-year-old Peter Cowman, the director of MoveRed, the King County Republican Party’s “youth coalition,” an outreach effort aimed at the 16-28-year-old age bracket.

“We recognize that for the first time in a long time, young people have the opportunity to lead and take responsibility at a young age,” Cowman said.

The former Marine is a senior majoring in political science at the University of Washington. He’s a firm believer in the value of getting involved; the younger, the better.

As if to illustrate his point, Cowman assembled about 100 or so like-minded young conservatives on Monday night for MoveRed’s summer BBQ, marking the group’s one-year anniversary.

Several local GOP favorites were on hand, including Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna, and Nick Bozarth, the 22-year-old mayor of Napavine, recently profiled in The Times.

Steve Litzow, the Mercer Island councilman running for state representative from the 41st District; Todd Gibson, running in the 33rd District; and Glenn Anderson, running for re-election from the 5th Legislative District, also showed up to stump.

“It’s about connecting with people and listing to people,” said Gibson. “That’s the way we’re going to win, that’s the way we’re going to make a difference.”

The “people” he was referring to are the elusive youth vote, something the Grand Old Party has seemingly conceded to the Democratic Party.

“Frankly, it’s not often that you get so many young Republicans in the same place,” said Patrick Bell, spokesman for the state Republican Party.

Until now, that is.

“We’re going to inherit our government” and party, Bozarth said, a feeling echoed by Lori Sotelo, the chairwoman for the King County Republican Party.

“What better testimony for the older generation that we’re doing the right thing?” she asked.

But Sotelo said the party could do a better job with recruiting younger members, and sees MoveRed’s efforts as a critical part of keeping the local GOP alive beyond this fall’s election.

“I believe that it’s building for the future,” she said. “This kind of outreach gives young people the opportunity to get their feet wet, getting experience in the political process and getting the word out.”

In an election year where “Obamamania” has fired up college campuses across the nation, the GOP is doing its part to capitalize on as much of that movement as possible.

“If you don’t bring young people into the fold, then you’re finished within a generation” as a party, McKenna said.

“Each generation needs someone to get them inspired and catch on,” he said.

Sen. John McCain has admittedly has had a harder time than Sen. Barack Obama when it comes to connecting with young voters, he said, but that could change if McCain taps someone such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a 37-year-old Indian American.

In the meantime, Cowman plans on rallying as much youth support as he can for the local and national party.

“The research shows that if you ask young people to get involved, they will,” he said.

“These people are the future. We are developing leaders; in our ranks are future radio talk show hosts, legislators, attorney generals and governors.”

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