Which way will young voters go in Georgia?

Editor’s Note: Republicans in Georgia are hoping to appeal to an unlikely demographic in this year’s midterm election — young voters. Their strategy includes showcasing a new online voter registration system and capitalizing on public opposition to the Affordable Care Act. State Democrats are, as expected, already courting the youth vote. But the GOP is hoping that, for a change, young people will provide its party with the edge it needs in 2014.

One of the candidates at the top of the Georgia GOP’s ticket this year is 71 years old. That’s Gov. Nathan Deal. He faces a 38-year-old Democratic challenger, Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.

And in the contentious U.S. Senate race, Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, has used a highly visible TV campaign ad to show off her young family as her older Republican opponents duke it out for the primary.

But many Republicans say the Democratic candidates’ youth won’t be as much of a factor in the midterm elections later this year. That’s partly because turnout in non-presidential, off-year elections skews older.

So does Georgia’s electorate. The state has nearly 900,000 voters aged 65 and older.

Joe Pettit with the Cobb County Young Republicans group said Carter and Nunn are part of famous political families and that will help them reach voters, but only so much.

“They have picked two strong candidates with obvious strong ties to Georgia’s history and name [recognition],” Pettit said. “The Democrats have done a good job over the last few election cycles of tapping into the youth vote and college students and young professionals. But with the right candidates coming out of the primaries, I think we will be able to energize the youth vote just as much as anyone else.”

State Sen. Josh McKoon, a Columbus Republican who was elected to the legislature the same year as Carter, said his colleague’s youthful pedigree will only go so far. And that’s because Georgia is still a red state.

“He is a gifted politician, and I think he will run a very good race. [But] I think the problem that he’s got is that Georgia remains a center-right state,” he said. “The challenge is trying to sell Georgians on an agenda that’s out of step with their values.”

Some Republicans are also hopeful that the timing of the state’s primary elections this year – the earliest ever – and its new online voter registration system will encourage young people to come out and vote. The primary elections take place Tuesday, and McKoon says that’s early enough that many college students won’t have left for summer travel or study.

Meanwhile, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp spearheaded the effort to streamline voter registration by putting it on the Web. Georgians can find all of the voting information they need at the Secretary of State’s My Voter page. That should appeal to Web-savvy youth voters. And

Officials with the Democratic Party of Georgia say Carter in particular has an edge with young voters because, age-wise, he’s closer to college graduates and can understand their struggles with finding employment and paying off loans.

But McKoon, who is Georgia’s delegate to the Young Republican National Federation, said many young people are also facing the so-called Obamacare penalty if they choose not to buy health-care coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act.

“The people in my district, younger people, have expressed to me great concern about that, either fearing the penalty will be hitting them soon or people who are seeing higher premiums who frankly blame Obamacare for those higher premiums,” he said.

That could hurt Democratic candidates, many of whom have been distancing themselves from the president.

Non-presidential elections rarely galvanize younger voters, but it’s not entirely clear how that will affect the gubernatorial race. Deal is doing well with younger voters, says Mark Rountree, a political strategist, whose firm, Landmark Communications, recently conducted a poll in conjunction with WSB.

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

This post originally appeared on GPB’s website on April 21.

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