Although successful campaigns require an infusion of money — and often lots of it — even the most high-profile candidacies rely on grassroots efforts. This often comes in the form of volunteers — those who do the priceless, thankless work.
These volunteers are on the front lines of getting out the vote. They are a committed bunch. They have to be. It is the voters who determine whether their time and energy will pay off.
A few dozen such individuals gathered on a recent Saturday at the Washoe County Republican Party headquarters, which occupies two rented office spaces in an otherwise lonely strip mall south of downtown Reno.
A few volunteers made telephone calls, hoping to garner support for this year’s crop of Nevada Republicans. Others stuffed packets with campaign literature, prepared vote canvassing maps and organized groups for precinct walks.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about these volunteers, however, was their youthful appearance. While the age spectrum was well represented, the number of college-age volunteers seemed surprising given that Republicans typically are perceived as middle-age and elderly. The youth vote, traditionally, has gone the way of Democrats.
In 2008, for instance, voters under the age of 30 cast ballots for Democrat Barack Obama by a 2-to-1 margin over Republican John McCain. Moreover, polling results show the under-30 age group to have been the Democratic Party’s most supportive subset of voters during the past three election cycles.
So were the young faces volunteering for Republican candidates an anomaly or a signal of change? Perhaps both. Perhaps neither. But Ralph McMullen, chairman of the county party, knows one thing is certain.
“We are swamped by young people coming in to volunteer who voted for Obama but are now ticked off,” he said.
However difficult McMullen’s assertion is to quantify, the point is not lost on the wider political world.
A national survey conducted in September by the Pew Research Center found that Democrats held a 20 percentage-point advantage over Republicans in party affiliation or leaning among voters younger than 30. However, that number is down 12 points from 2008.
It’s true, too, that many of the young people volunteering for the Washoe County Republican Party are dyed-in-the-wool conservatives.
Reed Adlish and Michael Powell are two such examples.
Both Adlish, 19, and Powell, 18, are political science students at the University of Nevada, Reno. The two have volunteered for Republican candidates since before they were eligible to vote. They’ve done so out of belief, out of passion, out of purpose. They hope their political proselytizing will sway other young voters to their cause.
“A lot of people associate our generation with apathy,” Adlish said. “I want to fix that. We have a voice, too, as young voters.”
After placing a few phone calls to potential Republican supporters, Adlish and Powell left the party headquarters and made their way to a residential neighborhood off Disc Drive in Sparks, where they spent an entire afternoon canvassing about 270 homes for votes.
Theirs was not an easy job. Many knocks on doors went unanswered. At other times, homeowners simply did not want to be bothered. And still other residents expressed support for Democratic candidates.
“Dealing with rejection is one of our best attributes,” Powell said with a wry smile.
Indeed, it is part of the job description. The two young volunteers weren’t just seeking known supporters. Instead, they targeted independent voters, Democrats and “soft” Republicans.
Adlish and Powell, however, did find some company in their political beliefs.
“I hope you can convince people to vote for Sharron (Angle),” said Kelsie Pipkin, a 69-year-old Sparks resident who welcomed the presence of the two Republican volunteers on his doorstep.
When told he looked young and vibrant for his age, Pipkin said, “That’s because of the way I vote.”
If a person is only as old as they feel, then Republicans could capture a greater share of the youth vote this election year than ever before.