This story was written by Andy Kroll, UWIRE
SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- Hurricane Gustav may have slowed official proceedings here on the first day of the Republican National Convention, but young Republicans aren't about to let that spoil their plans for their week-long championing of young voters.
With the first day of the convention featuring only a handful of official events, the spotlight has shone even brighter on youth-oriented events taking place in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
To kick off the convention, the Young Republican National Federation, the left-leaning Campus Progress Action and several other bipartisan young voter groups on Monday co-sponsored a youth vote luncheon at the Hard Rock Caf.
Before a crowd of about 50 people of all ages, Republican politicians and youth leaders spoke about the GOP's growing support among young people and the need to continue that growth in the coming months.
With the gap in youth support between Barack Obama and John McCain significantly smaller than even a month earlier, the mood among the crowd of young Republicans, many of them sporting "Future Leaders for McCain" stickers, was noticeably buoyant.
Jessica Coln, president of the Young Republican National Federation, used several statistics from the primaries and caucuses and also a recent Reuters/Zogbypollto illustrate McCain's increasing youth support on the national stage.Coln then urged Republicans in the crowd to continue the momentum that McCain has built in the past month among young Americans."I want to let you know that we are on a roll," she said. "(Young people) are starting to really decide in Senator McCain's authenticity, his experience, and his policies on energy, health care, fiscal responsibility and national security are resonating with young Republicans."
Making a surprise appearance at the event was popular former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
The former Arkansas governor implored those in attendance to get their friends and their friends's friends out to the polls this fall and cast their ballots for McCain.
"(The Young Republicans) is such an important part of the margin in every election, but perhaps more so this time than ever before," Huckabee said. "And I want to encourage you to be not just involved but fanatically involved over the next 60-plus days."
The youth of the GOP should have more invested in the presidential election than anyone else, he added, because "young Republicans are going to be more affected by the outcome of this election than anybody."
While many consider national party conventions more pageantry than politics, a week of back-patting and corporate-funded partying, young Republicans are using the convention as an opportunity to bring together future GOP leaders and offer them organizing training they can use back in their respective states.
One such event is the GOP Youth Convention, which began on Friday and continues for the duration of the RNC which ends on Thursday.
The youth convention includes daily grassroots organizing sessions for young Republicans at nearby Concordia University, and also a forum featuring former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Although their Grand Ole Party moniker does little to help sell young people on the Republican brand, it's clear that the Republican Party recognizes the need for a strong base of youth support.
Charlie Smith, president of the College Republicans national organization, said his primetime speaking slot on Thursday evening before McCain's acceptance speech is an example of this recognition by the GOP leadership.
"It shows where our party and our candidate is looking -- and they're looking twards the future," Smith said. "They want to have representatives of the youth movement speaking to millions of Americans and showing them that this is our candidate -- this is candidate of the youth movement."
Andy Kroll is a senior at theUniversity of Michiganand a news editor at The Michigan Daily. His writing has appeared at AlterNet, Campus Progress, WireTap Magazine, TomPaine.com and The Nation online. See hisUWIRE profile.