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Millennial Candidates Face Challenges From Young And Older Voters

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The last three U.S. presidents have been baby boomers. A fourth boomer might follow in 2016, but younger Generation X candidates are also among the contenders.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And still younger candidates are seeking seats in Congress this year. Let's meet two, as we focus on the millennial generation - what we call the new boom.

MARTIN: Jim Mowrer is a Democrat, age 28. He's an Iraq War veteran running for Congress in Iowa. Marilinda Garcia is Republican, age 31 and winning Tea Party support as she runs New Hampshire.

MARILINDA GARCIA: I don't think we're necessarily politically apathetic, but we are politically agnostic when it comes to parties.

JIM MOWRER: Younger people are hesitant to be labeled as partisans. And the problem that we have right now is we have too many extreme partisans in Washington.

INSKEEP: Yet both these millennials are running to serve in Washington, which means taking on those political labels, joining their respective political tribes. The campaign poses challenges for each. Garcia, the Republican, knows most millennial voters do not agree with her party on issues like immigration or gay marriage.

GARCIA: You know, I think as policy changes, naturally, you know, some issues just don't become, you know, the battle anymore. So I just think with time, we'll just see a whole different set of issues and a whole different set of concerns and demographics.

INSKEEP: I'm trying to interpret what you're saying there. Are you saying, well, gay marriage is getting decided by the public in a quick way, and it will cease to be the focus of politics?

GARCIA: Yeah, I'm saying that, you know, as situations develop - for example, in my state, we've been dealing with, you know, changes in policy regarding marriage for a number of years now. So it doesn't really come up, you know, in elections and campaigns anymore because it's just not an issue that they're fighting about in the legislature anymore.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about the Democratic Party's problem with millennials. Jim Mowrer, we mentioned that statistically speaking, millenials seem to lean more Democratic, but there's the question of getting them to vote at all. And in fact, surveys are finding that in 2014, Democratic-leaning millennials are a lot less motivated to vote than they seem to have been in past elections.

MOWRER: Well, that is a real problem, Steve. And I think it goes back to the frustration that exists, the negative tone that exists and the fact that, you know, a lot of times we don't have elected leaders talking about the issues that are most important to them, so talking about opportunities for young people and jobs and the needs to address the cost of college and student loan debt. But it's a two-way street. If young people start voting at an increased rate, you'll see elected leaders and politicians talk a lot more about their issues.

INSKEEP: Of course, you're in Iowa, where President Obama won the caucuses in 2008 on the way to becoming president, and he had a huge amount of young people supporting him then. And now you're going back to some of the the same voters in Iowa. Do you find some of them to be disillusioned by the results since?

MOWRER: Absolutely. I mean, I think they'll point to the fact they don't think anything's really changed. They voice frustration, I think, with both the president and, of course, Congress. And so you can't have one or the other. They have to be working together, and right now there's just not enough people in Washington and in Congress who are willing to come to the table to get the job done. And they keep, you know, just waiting for that next election. You know, the results of the 2014 elections, there will be people who say, oh, well, we shouldn't do anything now, we should wait until 2016. And then if that election doesn't turn out the way we want it to, we should wait until 2018. And that's the problem when you have the extreme partisanship is you have people who believe that we shouldn't do anything unless their party controls the House, the Senate and the presidency.

INSKEEP: Before coming into this conversation, we watched some of the commercials and videos that you've put out as you campaign, and it's interesting to see visually because you're both young - you both look young - and you're both shown in these videos interacting with older people, older voters. What's it like for you when you're campaigning and trying to win over the vote of someone who is 10, 20, 30, 40, even 50 years older than you?

GARCIA: Overall, I would just say I get a mixed bag. I think it's that if people are inclined to be supportive of you, they'll say, oh, my gosh, it's so great to see, you know, young people getting involved. You're the future, you know; this is great. I'll definitely support you. And if they're inclined to be opposed, they might say something like, oh, well, you know, you don't have enough experience. You know, you don't have children, you know, in my case and things like that.

INSKEEP: Has someone actually said that to you?

GARCIA: Oh, yeah. Mostly I have to say the Democrats (laughter). So...

INSKEEP: The Democrats - they want you to come back after you've had a couple of kids?

GARCIA: Well, it's just, you know, added to the bag of why you shouldn't vote for her, and it's basically, how can you make decisions about these different issues if you haven't experienced them?

INSKEEP: Jim Mowrer, you also have these videos where you show yourself, at least in the video, talking with older people. What's that like in real life?

MOWRER: Well, I would echo almost everything that Ms. Garcia said. I do have children - not for political purposes, of course.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Good that we clarified that.

MOWRER: Exactly, exactly. And I would clarify I do continuously have less and less hair on the top of my head, which I guess my campaign manager appreciates because it does make me look older. But...

INSKEEP: Gives you gravitas.

MOWRER: Exactly, but I wouldn't mind keeping it. But look, what I hear - as Ms. Garcia said, I hear from older voters who say they're very happy that we have younger people being involved, wanting to lead. But these are people who've lived their lives in this country, who've invested in this country who want to see this country succeed in the future. You know, I go on campus at Iowa State, and I talk to young people. I go to retirement homes, and I talk to old voters there. They have similar concerns. They - you know, about the future and what's happening in our country.

INSKEEP: Well, Jim Mowrer and Marilinda Garcia, thanks to you both.

GARCIA: Thank you.

MOWRER: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And you can join NPR's conversation on millenials using the social media hash tag #newboom. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.