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Grassroots Efforts Hope to Inspire Young Voters in Dallas County

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 reporter: On Main Street in downtown Dallas, members of the Dallas County Young Republicans gather for a monthly happy hour. 25-year-old Uptown resident Kathryn Estes first got active in the Grand Old Party at the University of North Texas in Denton.

Kathryn Estes, Dallas County Young Republican: Everyone is affected by health care. Everyone is affected by the war. Everyone is affected by the choices you make at 20 years old. You have to change it. I don't blame the parties for not being involved in our age group because we don't vote, so get them registered, get them voting, then the parties will come to you asking how they can get your support.

Cuellar: She is among the 18- to 40-year-olds local candidates hope to reach. From online communication to precinct walking, Dallas County GOP chairman Nate Crain says two years of planning for this election have helped Republicans develop the best ground game in town.

Nate Crain, Chair, Dallas County Republican Party: Dallas County is a Republican county, but not as Republican as it used to be. We're aware of that, we plan for that and we plan to be victorious on November 2nd, but it requires a very active effort, a very focused effort and we're not going to take anything for granted, and we're going to fight for every vote in the county.

Nick Kriofske, Co-producer, Bushwhack Music Festival: We don't think we can win Texas for Kerry, but we sure can make it difficult for the Republicans to dictate their policies by putting every Democrat locally into office.

Cuellar: Nick Kriofske co-produced the first Bushwhack Music Festival Sunday in Deep Ellum. Though its name capitalized on national opposition to the President, the event supported local candidates for office, like young Democrats Katy Huebner for state representative, and Carlos Cortez for judge. About 200 people attended, including 28-year-old David Hardt. Though he's now the treasurer for the Dallas County Young Democrats, he says he's been in both political camps during the past 10 years.

David Hardt, Dallas County Young Democrat: Believe it or not, I used to be a Young Republican when I was at SMU. I grew up in an affluent family. When I got out of college and I started looking for a job and I realize it's a lot harder to live on my own, I don't have mommy and daddy's money anymore, I really started thinking about other people in my situation that might not have had the same things growing up that I had, so I started looking at the other party in '98. I really didn't get active in the Democratic Party 'til three years ago. It really was George Bush, the war in Iraq, tax cuts for upper 2% of nation, Social Security.

Cuellar: Next week, Hardt will travel to Boston as a Texas delegate at the Democratic National Convention. He credits Howard Dean with invigorating young Democrats through the use of Internet tools like e-mail, blogs, and meet-ups. But Dr. Mary Dixson of the Annette Strauss Institute in Austin says tech savvy doesn't necessarily translate into voter turnout, especially in Texas.

Dr. Mary Dixson, Assistant Director, Annette Strauss Institute: Not being a battleground state definitely may keep a lot of people home. Because so many people aren't aware what's going on at the local level, it's a challenge to get them to vote if they don't feel their ballot is going to make a difference.

Cuellar: Dixson says people in their teens and 20's are up for grabs by both parties, but whether or not Republicans and Democrats can attract new, young voters to the polls won't be known until after election day. For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar.

Email Catherine Cuellar about this story.