Barack Obama rode a wave of youthful support straight into the White House in 2008. Now, Republicans put their hopes in Mitt Romney’s young and energetic running mate Paul Ryan to help oust the president in November.
The 42-year-old congressman from Wisconsin, if elected, would be the first of Generation X to win such a high office, and the youngest vice president since Richard Nixon took the job six decades ago at the ripe age of 40.
Ryan is of a different generation than the 65-year-old Mitt Romney, who grew up in the aftermath of World War II — in other words, Ryan’s younger than the parents of millions of first-time voters — and many see that as a good thing.
Conservative magazine The Weekly Standard named him and Majority Leader Eric Cantor the “Young Guns” of the House of Representatives for their novel approach to reforming Washington and fixing fiscal problems.
In between talking up his controversial budget plan, Ryan aims for an everyman image.
He named favorite beers on the campaign trail, and during a Thursday visit to his alma mater, Miami University in Ohio, he recalled how he needed 14 stitches after playing hockey there.
Lowman was born around the time Ryan was graduating college, and those mere 20 years from campus to candidate — not to mention Ryan winning a congressional seat at age 28 — could inspire first-time voters who not only feel disconnected from the political system but are under some of the worst financial strain to hit college students in generations.
Two-thirds of all voters under 30 pulled the lever for Obama four years ago.
That’s not happening for about half of all college graduates today, according to recent studies cited by Republican leaders.
Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling said Obama’s “hope and change” mantra has fallen flat, and that young voters have been more adversely impacted by the economy than almost any demographic group.
Michael Short, the 26-year-old communications director for the Republican National Committee in Virginia, is counting on Ryan to help drive that message home to young voters.
Ryan’s age “certainly helps,” Short said. “That really does appeal to the youth vote…. and he can speak to them on the various economic and spending issues that are directly affecting them.”
Brian Hood, 20, stopped by the rally with his mother on his way back to nearby Virginia Commonwealth University ahead of the new semester.
Virginia Tech student Hannah Robbins, 19, said Ryan’s reputation as a number-crunching fiscal reformer has its appeal, “but I don’t know how that will attract young people, they don’t really pay attention to that kind of stuff.”
Her brother William, who at 21 just missed out on voting in 2008, didn’t much appreciate his sister’s approach.