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The Crucial Youth Vote

Political pundits expect young voters, including college students, to figure prominently in today’s presidential primary vote in New Hampshire as they did, turning out in record numbers, in last week’s Iowa caucuses.

Sen. Barack Obama’s youth-oriented campaign, saturated with Oprah Winfrey optimism and reeling in idealism, drew young voters to Thursday’s Iowa caucuses by the droves. These first-time voters gave 46-year-old Obama, the youngest presidential candidate in the race, most of his margin of victory.

According to a CNN poll, 57 percent of Democrats ages 17-29 caucused for Obama, 14 percent for former Sen. John Edwards, 11 percent for Sen. Hillary Clinton and 10 percent for Gov. Bill Richardson. Among Republicans in the same age group, 40 percent caucused for Gov. Mike Huckabee, 22 percent for Mitt Romney, and 21 percent for Ron Paul.

In an interview with MTV News, former President Bill Clinton admitted Sen. Hillary Clinton and her campaign made a mistake in underestimating the youth vote in Iowa, but said the same thing won’t happen in New Hampshire.

In a an attempt to attract youth voters, Clinton told supporters in Manchester, N.H., she wanted to help give “every generation, especially young Americans, a chance to live their own dream and hopes.”

Says Heather Smith, executive director of Rock the Vote, a non-profit, non-partisan organization:  “[Iowa] showed that candidates who court young voters will win elections. Young voters turned out for candidates who spoke to them, talked about issues they care about, and asked for their votes. Clearly, young voters are a political powerhouse in 2008 and will play a major role come November.”

Students at the University of New Hampshire began preparing for the primary during parts of December with a mock presidential primary “Wildcats Vote.”  University officials hosted its first large-scale simulated presidential primary to prepare students for tonight’s event.

 “There was a lot of excitement in preparing for the primary. The [simulated] vote taught our students a lot about the presidential primary and provided them with additional information about the candidates. Many of our out-of-town students also registered to become absentee voters for the primary so that could participate in the process,” says Michele Holt-Shannon, assistant director of the university’s Discovery Program.

Shannon hopes that all of UNH’s 11,000 residential and commuter students will participate in tonight’s primary.

–MIchelle J. Nealy

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