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Paul Ryan's Youthful, But Can He Get The Youth Vote?

Young supporters attend the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. At 42, Paul Ryan is the first member of Generation X to join a presidential ticket. (Getty Images)

Republicans officially nominated Paul Ryan on Tuesday as Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate. There's a lot of excitement about the choice, some of it because of the hope that Ryan's youthfulness can benefit the party's image.

When you talk to young conservatives at the Republican National Convention in Tampa about their vice presidential candidate, they're nothing short of dreamy-eyed. Ryan is about as close to a bona fide celebrity as the party's got. What congressman wouldn't welcome the comparisons made to stars like Paul Rudd, Ryan Gosling and Carson Daly?

Luciana Milano, a 20-year-old page at the RNC and a rising junior at Harvard University, says she loves Ryan's image, onstage and off.

"I think that Paul Ryan is one of the most inspiring and charismatic social conservatives," Milano says. "He lives by what he preaches. He's not afraid to stand up for the criticism that he receives. Whatever issue it may be that's related to his core beliefs, he's not afraid to explain in depth."

Milano points out that Ryan is the same age as Tagg Romney, Mitt Romney's oldest son. And while some young Republicans say Ryan doesn't bring the racial or gender balance they'd hoped for, his youthfulness complements the Republican ticket.

It may seem like that youth has been a long time coming for the party. In 2008, Barack Obama was endorsed by actor Matt Damon, trash-talked 20-somethings on the basketball court and traded fist bumps with Michelle.

Now, Ryan is getting his pop culture game on, too. There's one reference his admirers seem particularly excited about: The vice presidential candidate listed the alternative rock group Rage Against the Machine among his top music picks.

Ryan also prioritizes his physical appearance. He's practically a spokesperson for the P90X fitness program craze. Conservative pundits are all abuzz about some of Ryan's favorite pastimes, but extreme fitness and alternative rock aren't all that surprising for someone who, at age 42, sits smack in the middle of Generation X.

Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida, says it's the "Ryan combination" that resonates with younger voters. "He bounces into a room, he's got a big smile on his face. He's slim and trim; he looks like he's ready to go," she says. "And yet he has a serious side to himself. And I think a lot of college students aim for that kind of balance in their lives."

Kristin Bradstreet, 20, chairwoman of the University of South Florida College Republicans, says she's excited about what she perceives at Ryan's well-roundedness. "Social issues are there for me. I was raised in a Baptist church. But fiscal issues at this time in my life really are my No. 1," she said.

So while Bradstreet appreciates that Ryan is a family man, she also loves his policy-wonk side, because of his focus on the economy.

"I graduate this December, and I have tons of student loans," she says. "I have six months to get a job and start paying for my loans." Bradstreet didn't spell out how Ryan would ease these worries, but she's confident he will.

Bradstreet also mentioned Ryan's budget plan — as did John Sciuto, 25, in Tampa working with the California delegation.

"I'm excited to hear Paul Ryan speak," Scuito says. "His plan that I've read through is just so thorough, and when he reads [Congressional Budget Office] calculations, he knows what they mean."

Of course, it's perhaps no surprise that the young party faithful at the convention in Tampa are celebrating Ryan's fiscal policies.

Other young voters like Rosalie Thompson, 27, an independent voter from Tampa, says Ryan's youthfulness doesn't influence her one way or the other; it's his politics that do — and she's not impressed.

"I really think he's turning people off," Thompson says. "He's trying to reach for that vote, but he's failing miserably because he knows nothing about the 99 percent."

But there is an opportunity for Republicans to grab other young voters.

Polling from CIRCLE, a think tank that follows youth civic engagement, shows that first-time voters between 18 and 21 years old are trending slightly more conservative than the rest of the millennial generation.

If Ryan does choose to spend valuable time courting the youth vote, young Florida Republicans have some advice for him.

"Hold events ... that appeal to young voters, and so on ... concerts, if you will, get-out-the-vote outreach, big food events," says Erik Blake, 22.

His fellow young Republican Ralph D'Elia, 22, says Ryan needs to spread his message to young people via nontraditional news outlets.

"Saturday Night Live is one that comes to mind. Barack Obama went on Saturday Night Live, though I didn't think he was particularly funny on it," D'Elia says. "That's something that Paul Ryan could do — maybe if he went on The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. A lot of kids our age get their news from those sources."

Who knows? Maybe it's just a matter of time before the debate over the national budget moves from Tampa to Comedy Central.

The audio for this story was produced by Youth Radio.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The choice of Paul Ryan has generated a lot of buzz at the Republican convention, especially among young voters. Youth Radio's Robyn Gee has this report on the Ryan effect.

ROBYN GEE, BYLINE: When you talk to young Republicans in Tampa about their vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, they're nothing short of dreamy-eyed. Ryan is about as close to a bona fide celebrity as the party has got. I mean, what congressman wouldn't welcome these comparisons?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I would say a smart short-haired Paul Rudd.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah, a brunette Ryan Gosling.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah. Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Maybe even Carson Daly back in the day.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I don't know, a little bit.

GEE: Some young Republicans say even though Ryan doesn't bring the racial or gender balance they'd hoped for, his youthfulness complements the Republican ticket.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIRT OFF YOUR SHOULDERS")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) Go on and brush your shoulders off. Yeah, dirt off your shoulders...

GEE: Candidate Obama got a lot of the youth vote back in 2008. He was endorsed by celebrities like Jay-Z and Matt Damon, trash-talked 20-somethings on the basketball court, and traded fist bumps with Michelle.

But now, Paul Ryan gets his pop culture game on too. There's one reference his admirers seem particularly excited about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RENEGADES OF FUNK")

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE: All hell can't stop us now...

GEE: No, it's not the alt rock group Rage Against the Machine. It's the fitness craze P90X, a popular video workout that Ryan sometimes leads on the Hill.

PAUL RYAN: Pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, lots of cardio, karate and jump training, yoga. I had three jobs when I came out of college. One of them was a fitness trainer.

GEE: Conservative pundits are all abuzz about some of Ryan's favorite pastimes. But extreme fitness and alternative rock aren't that surprising for someone who, at age 42, sits smack in the middle of Generation X.

KRISTIN BRADSTREET: I was raised as a - in Baptist church. But fiscal issues at this time in my life really are my number one.

GEE: Twenty-year-old Kristin Bradstreet is chair of the University of South Florida College Republicans. She appreciates that Ryan is a family man. But she also loves the policy wonk side of Ryan because of his focus on the economy.

BRADSTREET: I graduate this December, and I have tons of student loans. So fiscal issue is my only issue because I have six months to get a job and start paying for my loans.

GEE: Bradstreet didn't spell out how Ryan would ease these worries, but she's confident he will.

BRADSTREET: We love his budget plan, and we think that he would do great things with the economy.

GEE: Many young Republicans here in Tampa seem happy Ryan has a plan at all and can talk about it eloquently, even if they can't explain the details. Of course, these are the young party faithful.

Twenty-seven-year-old Rosalie Thompson, an independent voter from Tampa, says Ryan's youthfulness doesn't influence her one way or the other. It's his politics that do.

ROSALIE THOMPSON: I really think he's turning people off. But I think he's trying to reach for that vote, but he's failing miserably because he knows nothing about, you know, the 99 percent.

GEE: But there is an opportunity for Republicans to grab other young voters. Polling from CIRCLE, which follows youth civic engagement, shows that first-time voters between 18 and 21 years old are trending slightly more conservative than the rest of the millennial generation.

But will Paul Ryan spend any time actively courting the youth vote? If he does, the Florida College Republicans we talked with have a few tips for him. Ralph D'Elia says Ryan needs to spread his message to young people via nontraditional news outlets.

RALPH D'ELIA: "Saturday Night Live" is one that comes to mind. I know that, you know, Barack Obama went on "Saturday Night Live," though I didn't think he was particularly funny on it.

(LAUGHTER)

D'ELIA: I think that Paul Ryan - that's something that Paul Ryan could do. I think maybe if he went on "The Daily Show" or "The Colbert Report," a lot of kids our age get their news from those sources.

GEE: So who knows? Maybe the debate about the national budget will move from Tampa to Comedy Central.

For NPR News, I'm Robyn Gee.

BLOCK: That story was produced by Youth Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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