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Missouri GOP borrows old Pepsi slogan: Think young

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 28, 2009 - Republican leaders in Missouri read the polls. Despite  overall improvement in the party's standing in recent months, its biggest obstacle remains among the young.

The 35-and-under vote -- and its overwhelming preference for now-President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats -- helped sweep him into office last year and give the Democrats such a sizable edge in Congress.

In Missouri, the GOP barely carried the state for losing presidential nominee John McCain, and did keep control of the state Legislature. But Democrats snagged all but one of the statewide offices, in part because of the party's stronger standing among the young.

A recent statewide poll underscored the generation gap. Obama held a 30-point edge among the young, which the GOP countered only because it had a similar margin among those 65 and over.

Left unchecked, such demographics may not cause much of a problem in 2010 -- but could pose serious headaches for Missouri Republicans in the next 10-15 years.

State Republican Party executive director Lloyd Smith is telling partisans around the state that he's tackling the matter head-on. Smith says his staff has "inventoried every Teen Republican Club in the state,'' and focusing on various ways to assist and encourage the College Republican and Young Republican clubs around Missouri.

At a recent meeting of the West County Republicans, Smith also told of plans to create "Republican mentors" to aid and encourage young GOP leaders.

Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, whose group sponsored the national How to Take Back America Conference here last weekend, is also paying attending to the age issue. One of the conference workshops (co-led by one of her sons, Andy Schlafly) was entitled, "How to Bring Youth Into the Conservative Movement."

At the state GOP, Smith emphasizes that the added attention on the young doesn't mean the Republican will turn its back on the old, who are starting to catch on to the technological wave. "The fastest-growing users of the Internet," he said, "are 55 and older."

But Smith knows first-hand the challenges of capturing younger voters. One of his own children voted for Obama last year.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.