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Friday, April 11, 2014 - 11:54am

Ahead Of The Governor’s Race, Georgia Democrats Court Youth Vote

The Young Democrats of Georgia will be holding their annual conference this April 11-13 in Columbus, and notably one of the key speakers is a young Democrat himself.

Jason Carter is the 38-year-old Democratic gubernatorial campaign, and he will be headlining a special awards dinner at the conference. Organizers say the weekend events are geared toward whipping up excitement among the party’s youth, in the hopes they will campaign for the candidates and come out and vote in November.

Other prominent Democrats, including President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, have relied heavily on young voters to energize their campaigns and drive turnout.

But Carter and Michelle Nunn, a U.S. Senate candidate and Georgia’s other Democrat with a famous political family who’s seeking office, will need to put on a full-court press. That’s because of the nature of midterm elections, and the current mood of the country. Experts are predicting a particularly depressed turnout of young voters this fall.

Non-presidential elections rarely galvanize younger voters, said Mark Rountree, a pollster and a political strategist who often works with Republicans.

“Off-year elections do generally become older,” he said. “You don’t see the turnout of young people that you see in presidential elections. I think you will see a reduced number who are voting.”

That could favor Republicans like Governor Nathan Deal, who is 71. He belongs to the largest block of registered voters in Georgia, those age 65 and up. With more than 890,000 people, the group is nearly double the size of the next largest block, 18-24-year-olds, who number about 500,000.

But it may not be that simple. Notably, Rountree says a recent poll conducted by his firm, Landmark Communications, in conjunction with WSB shows Deal doing well with youth voters. And that could be a problem for him.

“In our survey, Gov. Deal was actually winning among young people so low turnout could be a help to Sen. Carter,” Rountree said.

But while Deal may be having success courting younger people, Carter is simply young himself. At 48, so is Nunn. And party officials are banking that will pay off in connecting to voters.

“For folks in Jason’s age bracket, it is fresh on their minds trying to pay off student loans, trying to find a good-paying job, all of that,” said Michael Smith, a spokesman with the Democratic Party of Georgia. “It’s all fresh on Jason’s mind. Plus he has a young family and a lot of young Democrats have young families.”

Nunn’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment, but Bryan Thomas, who recently joined Carter’s campaign, said the former state Senator from Decatur is positioned well to attract the youth vote.

“He has stood up for students statewide on the HOPE Scholarship,” he said. “He has worked to make education funding the state’s top priority and knows that we need an economy that provides opportunities for young job-seekers. Young voters are looking for a leader that has a vision for the future of our state and isn't stuck in the past.”

Smith with the state party said the Carter and Nunn campaign offices are full of young people working for free. But he realizes off-year elections are a tough sell.

“The challenge is to get people to come out at the midterm elections,” he said. “Presidential elections are just sexier.”

Nunn is not slated to appear at the Young Democrats conference. But a new television ad shows her walking with her husband and her two young children, reinforcing a sense of youth.

By contrast, her nearest Republican opponent is business David Perdue who’s been married for more than 40 years.