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Young Democrats of America convene in Dallas

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 Reporter

Dallas, TX –

Host: About 1,000 young leaders, including more than 70 international delegates, are in Dallas this week for the Young Democrats of America's national convention. KERA's Catherine Cuellar reports on how the conference is viewed by local Democrats, and what participants hope the convention will accomplish.

Catherine Cuellar: Historically, young voter turnout has been dismal. But Chris Galloway, president of the Young Democrats of America, says that in 2006, young voters turned out in record numbers - and unlike their parents, their votes were overwhelmingly Democratic.

Chris Galloway, YDA President: Over the past two years it's really been a sea change. In 2004, more voters under 30 cast ballots than voters over 65. Young voters are an important part of the electorate and the constituency.

Cuellar: Young Democrats are convening in Texas for the first time in their 75 year history, and they deliberately chose the city President Bush called home before he was elected governor. Despite the state's Republican leadership, Dallas Democrats swept every county-wide office last year, which garnered national attention, according to event co-chair Juan Ayala.

Juan Ayala, co-chair of the National Convention of the YDA: We are sending the message that the Democratic party is alive and well. We are committed to fight for every vote in the state, and there is no place that we are not willing to take our message.

Cuellar: The steady growth of a liberal youth vote is attributed to several factors, according to state Democratic party chair Boyd Richie.

Boyd Richie, Chair of the Texas Democratic Party: They're beginning to understand there are a number of issues that will impact them, not the least of which is the cost of this war, spiraling tuition rates, the inability to obtain adequate health care at a reasonable cost. All these things impact young folks.

Cuellar: While these concerns helped Democrats gain control of the house and senate nationally, SMU professor Matthew Wilson is not sure that the 2004 and 2006 elections constitute a trend.

Matthew Wilson: It certainly was true in 2004 that young voters turned out at higher rates than they had in the past, but the reality was that everybody turned out at higher rates. It remains to be seen if the surge among voter participation among young people is going to be sustained. It is also true that young people are particularly unhappy with the direction of the war, but it remains to be seen if with President Bush leaving the political stage how much of that translates into general gains for Democrats or general losses for Republicans. Anger with the war could be marginally confined as a phenomenon of the Bush presidency, which is drawing to a close.

Cuellar: Jonathan Nearman is the former president Dallas County Young Republicans. He says the convention is welcome here, but doesn't believe Democrats will maintain control of this area.

Jonathan Nearman: The notion that this is a blue county and will maintain a blue county is not accurate. It is their moment in the sun with respect to election in November here in the county, but what the numbers reflect is that we had a low turnout of Republican voters and not a higher turnout of Democratic votes. We have a very active Republican base in Dallas in the region and around the state and in fact we've been more mobilized since November.

Cuellar: The Young Democrats of America convention continues at the Adam's Mark Hotel in Dallas with General Wesley Clark, U.S. Senate hopeful Colonel Rick Noriega, and Senator John Edwards.
For KERA, I'm Catherine Cuellar.