DES MOINES, Iowa — In this era, there exists the sentiment that youth are apathetic, that they don't care about politics, and that they won't get out to vote. On Thursday night, the victory of Senator Barack Obama in Iowa's Democratic caucus gave us our first clue that perhaps that sentiment no longer rings true.
Due to the charisma and freshness of Obama's campaign and its appeal to a generation that craves change and movement, his potential road to the White House largely relies on young and first-time voters. According to a CNN entrance poll, 22 percent of caucus-goers were between ages of 17-29, and 57 percent of them supported Obama. In the end, Obama earned 38 percent of the caucus votes, while John Edwards had 30 percent and Hillary Clinton had 29 percent.
The results are perhaps surprising, considering that, unlike Edwards, who campaigned heavily in Iowa in 2004, Obama is newer on the scene and has not spent as much time in the state. As Jackie Sobel, whose father is a steel worker outside Ames, Iowa, told us, "I have met John Edwards many times, but I don't know Obama as well. He is going to have to earn my vote."
Thursday night, standing amid the celebrating Obama supporters and volunteers, all bursting with excitement and optimism, it was clear that the Illinois senator had in fact earned the support he needed to win this first leg of the presidential race.
"I'm excited and ready for change. When I got to Iowa, I didn't know who would be the right candidate for me, but Obama earned my trust in that respect," said James, a high school senior and first-time caucuser from Cedar Rapids. The Obama campaign has built its mission on changing Washington, taking back the country and bringing fresh air to American politics. As Mike Draper, 24, from Des Moines explained, "Obama's win shows that when you have an authentic, great candidate who promises to bring change and to bring out people, and they actually do it, they can win. In every precinct I went to, they said that double the people came out than they expected."
As Draper spoke, Obama's words rang through the room. "We are one nation, we are one people, and our time for change has come," the candidate said. Obama went on to speak about uniting the country and being trusted by other nations around the world, as well as by its own public. He also talked about the urgency and necessity of doing so, saying, "The time has come for a president who will be honest about the choices and challenges we face."
The real challenge now for the Obama campaign will be to keep attracting young voters and to maintain the momentum for the upcoming primaries, the first being in just a few days in New Hampshire. "In New Hampshire, if you give me the same chance that Iowa did tonight, I will be [your] president," Obama promised to overwhelming cheers bellowing through the room.
Young voters may make or break this election. Some believe that apathy still exists in the youth of this country and that there are many obstacles to face in that regard. As Fox News anchor Shepard Smith said, "Young voters are good at talking about things. They carry signs really well. They campaign really hard, but come election day ... For instance, there are [30,000] students at the University of Iowa, which is not in session right now, but the school opened its dorms to allow students to come back and vote, and only two people signed up [to do so]."
Such a statement is hard to fathom while looking at the number of young faces in the crowd at the Obama victory party. Keeping young voters interested, however, must be one of the highest priorities in the days, weeks and months to come, if Obama wants to close in on Senator Clinton's lead in the national polls.
But with the New Hampshire primary happening Tuesday and the contagious enthusiasm of the Obama campaign at an all-time high, perhaps young voters will keep coming out to volunteer and vote. After all, their work here certainly paid off.