A Chance Encounter with a Young Republican

While most people would have you believe that Barack Obama has a lock on the youth vote, there’s a pretty large group of people who might tell you otherwise: The Young Republicans. I had arrived at the RNC without a credential but hoping that I might go to actual Republican events, (and not ironically). I wanted to meet the folks whose very name conjures up images of Alex P. Keaton. So, I did the most logical thing: I Facebooked them.

The next day (yesterday), run down from a sinus infection and a fever, yet still hopeful I might find a delegate or two to interview, I was in the women’s restroom washing my hands next to an attractive, well-dressed woman when I noticed her Texas delegate tag hanging around her neck.

I asked her if I could interview her and she said yes. It turns out that Jessica Colón, 33, is not only a lifelong Republican, but she’s also the Chairman of the Young Republicans.

“Omigod!” I exclaimed, not very professionally. “I totally Facebooked you last night!”

We bonded. She explained the lengthy three-and-a-half month delegate process to me: there’s primary proceedings, district, state, and congressional district hoops to jump. Or you can run at-large, which is what she did.

She’s been a member of the Young Republicans since high school and has risen through the ranks to the national level. A third generation American, Colón’s family emigrated from Croatia, “legally, quite frankly,” she noted. “They came here to live the American dream and they did. They worked, raised four kids, and built a house and helped their family come over and assimilate and integrate.” She said her great-grandmother even refused to cash her Social Security checks, because “she never wanted to take from the country that gave so much to her.”

I asked Colón what her three most important platforms were and she said without hesitation: “Energy, national security and fiscal responsibility.” She noted ruefully that the Democrats have cherry-picked the energy issue. “That energy issue is something the Republicans have been fighting since the 70s, and every single time a bill comes to the floor of the house, it’s blocked by the Democrats, and it’s just recently now that they’ve seen it’s an issue that they can run on, they have made some progress toward that,” she said. “The Republicans have been talking about this for three decades.”

What’s been interesting in my limited conversations with the Republicans is that none of them note the issues that Democrats are most averse to: abortion or gay rights. Though the Republican Party plays up the Pro-Life stance and what they call “sustaining the definition of marriage,” these issues don’t seem to be the most important ones to the people I meet.

Colón explains: “I think the Republican Party is a big tent party, and we’re a party based on ideology rather than identity. Everyone’s united behind energy, strong national defense, less spending, and less government. These ideologies, the strict interpretation of the Constitution, wanting to make sure conservative justices are brought into the Supreme Court, that’s what we want to get behind, not behind any one identity. No matter where you are there are going to be issues that people feel are wedge issues.”

Sarah Palin is almost a direct illustration of her point. The Alaskan Pro-Life governor has instantly sealed the deal for the base. “The entire base, and not any one faction of the base,” said Colón. “And the base, remember, typically are people who are active and engaged in the Republican Party regularly. So it’s not just evangelicals, it’s not just women, it’s not identity. She has ignited the entire Republican base. She has united, honestly united, this party around Senator McCain. That decision has brought new life to this campaign.”

Colón thinks Obama’s a “great speaker” but believes that John McCain will do better with the youth. “Authenticity resonates with young voters, and we’ve started to see Senator Obama come down in the polls with the 18 to 29 year old vote and Senator McCain’s up, and I think that trend will continue as Senator McCain continues to get our more and more during the general election.”

That’s where Jessica and I will have to agree to disagree. But we can still be Facebook friends.