Obama Rallies Youth Vote in Iowa

Obama wins, Huckabee wins.

Two unlikely candidates, both representing alternatives to the status quo, both championing a new dawn for America, have bested their party-backed rivals despite being outspent, out-organized and outsmeared on the road to the Iowa caucuses.

I’m not foolish enough to argue that either candidate’s stance on criminal justice, much less the narrower question of how to handle young offenders, had much to do with their victory. As even casual news watchers can tell, crime is essentially a nonissue this primary season, despite Romney’s attempts to attack Huckabee’s record on clemency. (Huckabee fired back by highlighting Romney’s refusal to pardon a decorated Iraq War vet with a juvenile record.) Nevertheless, there is one major point of overlap between this blog’s central concerns and the day’s top political headline that I’d like to point out.

Obama rallied the youth vote in a big way. According to CNN’s analysis of entrance polls, he took 57 percent of the vote among Democrats under 30, compared to 11 percent for Clinton and 14 percent for Edwards. Here‘s Michael Connery, a blogger at Daily Kos, reporting that the youth vote in Iowa last night wasn’t merely higher than usual but higher by a factor of three:

Barack Obama may be riding the momentum of a caucus win into New Hampshire, but the real winner in tonight’s Iowa caucus was young voters.

It’s been a long and rocky road for young voters – in the media and in the party – For four years, the media has declared (incorrectly) that young voters were the downfall of Howard Dean, whose over-reliance on an “unreliable demographic” ushered in his defeat in the 2004 caucus. This, despite the fact that youth turnout at the caucus increased that year. For the last year, we’ve heard how Obama’s strategy was foolhardy, and even from the campaign we heard that the youth vote would be “icing on the cake.”

It turns out, it was the cake.

According to estimates by CIRCLE (pdf) youth vote turnout at the caucus tripled tonight, rising from 4% to 11%. Within the Democratic caucus, over 46,000 young people participated, and young voters comprised 22% of all caucus-goers. According to entrance polls by CNN, 57% of those 17-29 year old caucus goers stood up to caucus for Barack Obama. Tonight, they drove his campaign to victory.

And here‘s Time columnist and Clinton-era stenographer Joe Klein, a self-proclaimed “Baby Boomer slouching toward codgerization,” with his instant analysis on what Obama’s victory means:

The Obama victory was not so much about his generation — but the kids two generations behind him, the college kids and recent graduates, blissfully colorblind, who spent patient months as organizers out in the most rural counties. Obama would pay tribute to these organizers at each of his events, calling them to the stage, giving them props — and it was surprising how often the local residents in places like Algona and Mt. Pleasant would mention to me how extraordinary these kids were. They reminded me, in classic, solipsistic Boomer fashion, of my own generation, of the remarkable political activists who went down to Mississippi to register black voters and marched against another war, and came to politics in the Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy campaigns of 1968. That generation’s — my generation’s — passion gave us the propulsion to quickly move to the center of political life and the media. The end of their time — our time — in the driver’s seat may have begun in Iowa.

Klein remains skeptical that Obama will ride this momentum to the national convention in Denver, and he’s an untrustworthy pundit for reasons I won’t get into here (just ask Glenn Greenwald), but he knows a generational sea change when he sees one. “Whether or not Barack Obama goes on to win the nomination — and let’s not forget in the afterglow that this is truly an open question — his field army will endure and, because of their immense skill, they will bend the political process to their will in years to come,” Klein writes. “And years from now, when they meet in the corridors of power or academia or at the inevitable reunions, they’ll look at each other and smile, and they won’t even have to say the words: We did something amazing back in Iowa, on January 3, 2008, didn’t we?”

Yes, they did.

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