With Three Tight Races, N.H. GOP Eyes College Voters

Oct 27, 2014

Scott Brown eats a pretzel off a young woman's snack-necklace at Redhook Brewery's BeerFest.
Credit Emily Corwin / NHPR

  College campuses used to be the domain of the Democrats. Two years ago, Democrats got 62 percent of the vote among 18-29 year olds.  And with midterm election turnout particularly low among college students, it didn't make sense for the GOP to spend time campaigning there.

“Traditionally in midterm elections, the GOP has said ‘we don’t think it’s worth expending the resources,’” says 32 year old Andrew Hemingway, a recent Republican candidate for Governor and manager of Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign in New Hampshire.

This time around, that’s not the case.  Millennials are the biggest generation, Hemingway says, and “there’s this growing reality that if we can’t reach these young voters now, are we ever going to be able to reach them?”

So – the GOP has been reaching out to millennials.  In August, New Hampshire’s District 2 Republican candidate for US Congress Marilinda Garcia stood before a sea of 20- and 30- somethings talking about “our generation.” At 31, she’s the kind of candidate GOP leaders hope will help bring more young people into the fold.  

Following Garcia on the stage was Republican Senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul. Paul, a likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate, has a strong following among young people. Twice this election, Paul has accompanied Scott Brown to college campuses in New Hampshire, where he’s endorsed and stumped for the Republican Senate-hopeful.

GOP candidates have made tons of visits to college campuses this year. At one point, Scott Brown participated in tailgating at UNH’s homecoming.  Another time, UNH senior Katherine McAuliffe says she heard he was hanging out with college students at a local bar. "So I have friends who do not support that candidate but who were like ‘hey, how can I make this work for me? I’m going to have this candidate buy me beer.'" McAuliffe recalls.

The Brown campaign says it never bought students beer.

Either way, UNH political scientist, Dante Scala says, reaching out to students on their turf makes sense. Democrats are almost certain to win in NH’s college towns of Durham, Hanover and Plymouth, says Scala. But overall, “I’m not sure any of the winners of those major races is even going to reach 55 percent of the vote,” says Scala. The Senate race, he says, “could be decided by as little as 4,000, 5,000 votes.”

If the Republicans can push down the margins on college campuses, Scala says, that could make a big difference: both on Tuesday, and in 2016.