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Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Continue to Court Young Voters

In their final thrust before today’s primary vote in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spent the weekend and much of Monday courting young voters with promises of making higher education accessible to all who want an education. Bolstering support among voters ages 30 and under is critical for both candidates.

According to the results from CNN exit polls and from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, young voters have turned out in record numbers in more than 20 states. In nearly every state holding a primary or caucus last Tuesday, youth turnout surged, doubling turnouts from the 2000 and 2004 electoral seasons.

Sunday, Clinton spoke to a packed house at Bowie State University, the oldest historically Black college in Maryland, accompanied by endorsers: Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Gov. Martin O’Malley and Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson. A long line swung out from the doors of Bowie State’s Leonidas James Gymnasium as people waited in the frigid weather to enter the venue.

Clinton emphasized her proposals for the ailing economy, broken health care system and a seemingly exclusive higher education system. Making college affordable for every American would be on the top of her to-do list, said Clinton.

“America needs to invest in young people instead of throwing them into so much debt they don’t know their way out. We are going to double the college tax credit, [and] expand and extend the Pell Grant. If you do a national service, you can earn up to $10,000,” Clinton said.

Monday, Obama addressed a group of students during a rally at the University of Maryland, College Park. Thousands crowded noisily into the Comcast Center, chanting, “Yes We Can!” and “Obama ‘O8.”

Obama owes much of his victories, including his first win in Iowa, to America’s young voters, netting 59 percent of voters under 30 last Tuesday, compared to Clinton who garnered 38 percent of the youth vote.

As his R&B-inspired, famed slogan “Yes We Can” faded into the background, Obama took the stage. Serving up his brazen brand of zeal and optimism, Obama told attendees, “It is time to make college affordable to everyone.” The crowd applauded as Obama explained his plan to extend higher education to the masses.

He proposed a $4,000 tuition break for every student and financial rewards for national service endeavors with organizations such as Americorps. or the Peace Corps., measures similar to those of Clinton.

Throughout the weekend, both candidates stressed the need for change, a theme that resonates with young voters.

Despite all the attention from both candidates, James Ojewumi, a 20-year-old accounting major at Bowie State University, is still undecided. “I’m leaning towards Obama,” said the Maryland native at the UMD event. “Obama has a plan to really assist everybody on every issue from the war in Iraq to health care.”

Obama swept Democratic presidential contests over the weekend, striking the latest blows in a battle that has forced Clinton to change her campaign’s leadership. He scored decisive wins in Louisiana, Nebraska, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington state.

Lauren Gregory, a sophomore at UMD, was elated when her professor cancelled class so that students could attend this event. Gregory, a native of New Jersey, wanted to see Obama in person.

While not an official Obama supporter, Gregory stressed the significance of being informed. “Younger voters are ready for a change. Under this administration, the future does not look bright for us. We will be working in a work force managed by this administration. We have to consider our own futures and those of our children,” she said.

 Cassie Chew contributed to this report.

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