Boston Globe: Obama ''counting'' on young voters in New Hampshire
By Scott Malone
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama talked about the future on Saturday to members of an increasingly influential group that may well decide his own: young voters.
"So much is riding on the decisions that are made and the leadership that is provided by you," he told 1,000 graduating seniors at Southern New Hampshire University, in the state that traditionally holds the first U.S. presidential primary.
Obama, 45, is the youngest of the candidates seeking the major parties' nomination for the 2008 White House race and would be the United States' first black president.
"We're counting on you to restore the image of America around the world," Obama said. "We are counting on you to bring this planet from the brink of a climate-change crisis.
"We are counting on you to help fix a health-care system that's leaving too many Americans sick or bankrupt or both."
While he didn't make an overt bid for votes during the commencement address, the Illinois senator chose his audience wisely. Younger voters are particularly important for Obama to focus on, according to political analysts.
"It's a critical part of his campaign," said John Della Volpe, polling director at Harvard University's Institute of Politics. "He has a significant lead among that demographic group, especially the young people on college campuses. That is a critical part of his strategy and a critical part of his base."
Obama climbed onto the national stage with his 2004 address at the Democratic National Convention. He did well in early fund-raising and is trailing front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton in many polls.
However, an April poll by the Harvard institute showed him leading the New York senator by 35 percent to 29 percent among likely Democratic voters aged 18 to 24.
"He was very impressive," said Kristen Franco, 21, of Bedford, New Hampshire, who had come to see her boyfriend graduate. "I really felt that he was able to relate to us."
The Harvard poll showed former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani leading among young Republican voters, with 31 percent to Arizona Sen. John McCain's 18 percent.
GROWING IN IMPORTANCE
After mostly waning since the Vietnam War, the political power of youth voters is growing again.
Energized by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's youth have leaned Democratic in recent elections, pollsters say, providing an attractive lure for Obama and other candidates to court them in the race for their party's nomination.
About 49 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 cast a vote in the 2004 presidential election, up from 40 percent four years earlier for the highest turnout since 1992, according to Young Voter Strategies.
In November's congressional election, 58 percent of that age group voted Democrat.
"Candidates are starting to understand that they need to court this very large electorate," said Kathleen Barr, research and media director at Young Voter Strategies, affiliated with George Washington University.