NEW YORK — Mac may be back and the Comeback Gal has finally found her voice, but for Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton, the race for their respective party nominations has really just begun.
And if it hadn't been clear before, now more than ever, the youth vote matters. In fact, Hillary Clinton specifically thanked young voters in her victory speech Tuesday night.
"Young people across New Hampshire who came out," she said, "they asked the hard questions and they voted their hearts and their minds, and I really appreciate it."
In the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses, there was a significant increase in young-voter turnout overall. That is why all the candidates made a last-minute effort to court young voters in New Hampshire.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement reported that 43 percent of eligible New Hampshire voters under 30 showed up at the polls on Tuesday, compared to 2004's 18 percent. Though 60 percent of voters ages 18-24 voted for Senator Barack Obama to Clinton's 22 percent, she won the 25-29 bracket by 37 percent to Obama's 35 percent.
And in a nod to the growing power of the youth vote, the New York senator kept her daughter, Chelsea, close by her side all night. Chelsea did, after all, encourage her mother to speak exclusively with MTV News earlier in the day.
MTV's own Street Team '08 — made up of 51 young journalists from each state and Washington, D.C., who will cover issues important to their peers and communities as a part of the Choose or Lose campaign — has been following the candidates closely (this week from New York City, where the team has convened to get marching orders for the campaign).
Now that things are heating up — and Super Tuesday (February 5), when 23 states will hold their primaries, is less than a month away — we talked with a few representatives to offer us a glimpse of the issues that are important to young voters.
Michigan's GOP primary is up next, on Tuesday, and the state's Street Team rep, Nadir Omowale, reports that the economy is a growing concern. In a study released last year, the Kauffman Foundation, an independent research group focused on entrepreneurship and grant-making, found that Michigan moved down 15 spots in terms of its financial market — a bigger drop than in any other state.
"The main thing is jobs are exiting the state," Omowale told MTV News. "Manufacturing jobs, the manufacturing section is really having a tough time, it has for a while. ... So the real issue for everybody is that we need jobs, we need improvements on what's going on in that economic front throughout the state."
Omowale explained how the scarcity of jobs has caused a domino effect, resulting in younger natives fleeing in search of employment elsewhere. "Once you get out of school, high school or college, are you gonna stay there or not? Or are you gonna leave the state? We've seen Detroit's population drop from one of the top in the country to well below. So that's the main issue — that young people, the ones that don't have jobs and are seeking jobs, are having the toughest [time] finding one."
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has had the largest presence in the state so far as he had made appearances throughout Michigan to speak to the business community, Omowale said. Romney has high hopes for the state — his father, George, was a governor there and, like his son, also launched a presidential bid.
In Nevada, Street Team rep Michael Gonzales said green issues were at the forefront among young residents in his state, particularly a proposed landfill at the Yucca Mountain ridge line — and they'll have a chance to sound off on the proposal during the Nevada caucuses January 19. "It's both a state and national issue," Gonzales said. "The youth vote is really concerned about that, and they are gonna vote for a candidate who doesn't dump in the Yucca Mountains. It's a nuclear waste dump that's 45 minutes away [from Las Vegas]. And, of course, nobody wants waste in their backyard."
The South Carolina primaries, held January 19 for the GOP and January 26 for the Dems, will be crucial. They are two of the last major contests before Super Tuesday — both parties' Florida primaries take place January 29, and the Republican caucuses in Maine will be held February 1. However, the Democrats will not be counting their delegates in Florida — or Michigan — because the Democratic National Committee stripped those states of their delegations after they moved up their primary dates. But beyond the fact that the South Carolina primaries are two of the last major pre-Super Tuesday contests, large and influential voting blocs like war veterans, evangelicals and blacks figure to impact heavily in the state as they work to get their concerns heard nationally.
According to our S.C. rep, the races between McCain and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and between Clinton and Obama will be the tightest. "Anyone in South Carolina can tell you McCain has been there," Street Team rep Shantel Middleton told MTV News. "Even when most candidates have not, he has been in South Carolina really getting to know the people, really building up a strong military following, and veteran people really support him and what he has to say."
Middleton said the attention in South Carolina has been palpable as Hillary's group trotted out former President Bill Clinton to counter the star power the Obama campaign delivered weeks ago with Oprah Winfrey. Hours after Winfrey's appearance, Middleton said Bill Clinton countered by meeting with a historically black sorority.
"The first place he went was an Alpha Kappa Alpha graduate chapter meeting," she said. "He met with black women. They know [how important they are as a voting bloc], and they know they are the leaders."
One thing is certain about South Carolina: The state will be a make-or-break destination for Southern candidates, such as former North Carolina Senator John Edwards and Huckabee.
But a lot can happen before that primary. Our Arkansas rep, Patrick Kennedy, said young voters are still undecided in many places and that change is a prominent issue in making up their minds. From Kennedy's vantage point, McCain is making headway — but no one can be counted out yet.
"The ebb and flow of the campaign is starting to become evident," he said. "One moment it's McCain, one moment it's Huckabee. I think the selection is looking not so much at the direction of change, but the capacity to change. And change being a common theme throughout the race so far, looking toward Michigan and other states, I think McCain really has a stronghold. He's consistently stuck to the issues and been very straight with the public. But on the other side, I think Huckabee has a very big upside. One thing people in my state have said is to not count him out. From learning to speak in the pulpit, he knows how to speak to people and he has an upside with being able to speak to the issues."