POSTED ON DECEMBER 8, 2010:
They Want You!
GOP urging next generation of voters to get involved
“That millennium generation will make up close to 40 percent of eligible voters by 2020,” Pinnell said. “This generation is going to become a huge voting bloc in about 10 years. We’ve seen the impact of youth on elections when they get involved. They can change elections.”
Fresh off an election cycle in which its candidates cruised to victory in almost unprecedented numbers, it would seem as if the Oklahoma Republican Party might be content to rest on its laurels for a while.
But that's not the way Matt Pinnell, the 31-year-old state GOP chairman, sees it.
Pinnell was the youngest Republican Party state chairman in the country when he took over in June at age 30. One of his priorities since then has been targeting a section of the voting populace -- those born in 1979 or afterward -- and encouraging them to consider joining and working on behalf of the GOP.
With that thought in mind, Pinnell and other state Republican leaders plan to launch a new program called Emerge 46 -- it takes its name from Oklahoma's status as the union's 46th state -- in January that is designed to attract so-called "next generation" voters to the GOP in Oklahoma, though that is a tag that Pinnell said he avoids using.
"I believe they have emerged," he said. "They're up to bat now. We need that generation to get involved in the political movement."
Emerge 46 will be kicked off next month with launch parties in the state's major cities featuring appearances by honorary co-chairs. A website also will be launched through the state party's current website, okgop.com. The state chairman said it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of those the initiative is targeting.
"That millennium generation will make up close to 40 percent of eligible voters by 2020," he said. "This generation is going to become a huge voting bloc in about 10 years. We've seen the impact of youth on elections when they get involved. They can change elections."
Pinnell hopes not only to get younger voters to vote Republican but to convince them to join College Republican or Young Republican clubs, campaign at the precinct level and raise money for GOP candidates.
"If we can do that, we'll have a better army out there in 2012 (when the next presidential election takes place)," he said.
Pinnell acknowledged that younger voters traditionally have gravitated toward the Democratic Party, particularly two years ago when they were a big factor in the election of President Obama. He hopes Emerge 46 will help the GOP chip away at the support the president has in that voting bloc.
"He's an unpopular president," Pinnell said. "But on college campuses, that's where he gets his biggest crowds. It's a winnable generation."
Given his relative youth, Pinnell believes he knows how to appeal to younger voters and draw them to the GOP. As a 2002 graduate of Oral Roberts University, he routinely tells college students during his visits to various campuses that it wasn't so long ago that he found himself in their position.
"It does help when I can go into a college classroom and go to young professionals and say, 'I'm 31, and I understand where you guys are coming from. I was just in college. Let's do this thing together,' " he said.
The Tulsa native said he got involved in the politics when he was in college, serving as an intern in the local office of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. He attended an informal event for Broken Arrow Republican Scott Pruitt, who then was seeking election to the state Senate. Pinnell came away impressed by Pruitt's aggressiveness and competitiveness, and joined his campaign. That experience convinced him politics was his calling.
After graduation, he and his wife Lisa moved to Washington, D.C., where Pinnell worked for two groups, the American International Automobile Dealers Association and the political action committee of the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons. When they decided to return to Oklahoma a few years ago, Pinnell said, it seemed only natural that he would reintegrate himself into the local political scene, going to work as a campaign aide for Republican candidates and eventually becoming director of operations for the state party.
When Gary Jones, the chairman of the state GOP resigned his position earlier this year to run for state auditor and inspector, Pinnell jumped into the race to replace him. Despite being only 30 years old at the time, he was elected to the post in June.
"I think it was an asset," he said of his age. "I think it's a positive thing. I think it's an asset when you have young, vibrant leadership. That's the feedback I've gotten from around the state."
Pinnell said it is his intention to build on the foundation established by Jones, and he believes his ability to relate to younger voters will serve him -- and the party -- well.
"I'm somebody who obviously gets social media and understands new developments in the political game," he said.
When Pinnell visits state campuses to talk to college students, he said he routinely beings each session by passing out sheets of paper and asking the members of his audience to list their top concerns among such issues as the environment, abortion, taxes, health care and others.
"On a lot of those sheets, environmental issues will be listed higher than abortion," he said. "But that doesn't surprise me. I'm not saying the Republican Party should take a timeout on those issues. But Republicans need to realize the members of this generation, a lot of them, rank these issues differently."
While younger voters are likely to have different priorities than older voters, Pinnell said, "that doesn't mean there's not room for them in the Republican Party."
The new emphasis on younger voters is an attempt to make sure the GOP's gains in Oklahoma don't erode over time, he said.
"I think we have older voters who are with us," he said. "They're on the bus. It's the youth vote that's not. We're going to lose a whole generation of voters if we don't get our act together. That's what keeps me up at night."
The state Republican chairman acknowledged the Democrats' hold on younger voters is not something that will be easy to change.
"We've got to be realistic," he said. "We're not talking about domination, but we're definitely talking about competing. We hope to have a College Republicans club at every college in the state, and we want to have a Young Republicans club in every city. We want to build a farm team of good, young, conservative voters and potential candidates."
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