Virginia Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli (R), is beginning his campaign for Governor with an appeal to younger voters and volunteers. On Saturday, January 5th, his campaign hosted a “Young Virginians for Cuccinelli” kickoff event.
Indeed, this gathering was one of the candidate’s first campaign appearances since he became the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee after Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling’s exit from the nomination race. It was also one of his last public appearances before he returns to Richmond to oversee the next session of the Virginia General Assembly. The timing of this event no doubt demonstrates that Cuccinelli intends to make a serious effort to win over Virginia’s youth.
To many political observers, assembling a large number of student voters for such an event might have seemed an impossible feat for the Cuccinelli campaign. After all, according to exit polling from the 2012 elections, President Obama won over 61% of Virginia’s young voters (18-29 years old).
Turnout and enthusiasm among young voters in off-year elections, such as 2013, is often especially low. Additionally, over the holiday break many young Virginians vacation with their families or are unable to communicate with their local high school or college Republican organizations, thereby making January 5th an especially difficult date for them to participate.
Nevertheless, enthusiasm for Cuccinelli’s candidacy was so strong among local students and young professionals that the potential challenges listed above seemed to be nonexistent. Between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM, young volunteers packed the campaign’s main office in Fairfax, Virginia, making hundreds of phone calls and voter contacts.
By early afternoon, so many volunteers had arrived that the main office was overflowing, and offices on two separate floors had to be opened up for additional youths. Those spaces also soon filled, and the campaign subsequently instructed the additional volunteers to make calls on their personal cell phones. The crowd was estimated to be well over 100 individuals.
Around 4:00 PM, Ken Cuccinelli arrived himself, and the volunteers were all moved outside to accommodate everyone in one space. John Scott, Chairman of the Young Republican Federation of Virginia, and Michael Cogar, Chairman of the College Republican Federation of Virginia, both addressed the audience and encouraged those present to bring Cuccinelli’s conservative message back to their respective campuses.
As the youngest delegate to the 2012 Republican National Convention from Virginia’s nearby 8th congressional district, I was given the honor of introducing Ken to the impressively large audience that had gathered. Finally, the Attorney General spoke for over 20 minutes, evidence of the importance with which he regarded this event and its young participants.
Although the event drew a uniquely large number of people to Cuccinelli’s campaign office, young volunteers are a common sight there even on a typical day. A sizeable percentage of the crowd at the kickoff event claimed to have volunteered on the Cuccinelli campaign at least once before.
Cuccinelli makes no apologies for his staunch conservative convictions, a trait which the many young Virginians in attendance found refreshing. For instance, Max Gerlach from Yorktown High School especially appreciated Cuccinelli’s willingness “to fight for the rights and autonomy Virginians want” in the face of federal overreach.
Upon entering the campaign office, volunteers were asked to sign their name on a large Gadsden flag, a common symbol of individual freedom and states’ rights. Similar flags signed by the Attorney General were handed out as raffle prizes later in the day.
Ken Cuccinelli’s presumptive Democratic opponent is Terry McAuliffe, the former chairman of the DNC. Due to his background in national politics, McAuliffe is sure to compile an immense war chest. While it may be difficult for Ken Cuccinelli to match such fundraising, the loyalty that exists among his young volunteers is a major asset, and the campaign is utilizing them accordingly.
However, the volunteers also seemed to benefit from the experience, as many enjoyed being surrounded by so many fellow conservatives, often a rare occurrence on their respective campuses. “The synergy of such like-minded young Republicans was really astonishing,” said John Corker of George Mason University. “It was truly a pleasure to watch it all unfold.”