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Eye On Olympia

The perplexing phenomenon of the Rossi-Obama voter and whether they’ll matter…

From the print paper:

In the final, frenzied days of the 2008 governor's race, Republicans in particular are trying to win a group that's long sat out elections: young adults.

"A generation expected to overwhelmingly favor Obama is also supporting Dino Rossi," the campaign said this week.

But what sounds like yet more campaign hyperbole is borne out by independent polling. For months, numerous polls that showed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama doing well here among young voters showed the same thing about Rossi, a Republican.

"When we first looked at the marginals among young voters for Rossi, we thought we had something wrong," said Western Washington University professor Todd Donovan, one of the researchers with the Washington Poll. ("Marginals" refers to breakdowns of the polling data.)

At the University of Washington and Washington State University, both student newspapers have endorsed Rossi, saying he'd be more fiscally conservative than Gov. Chris Gregoire. And Rossi's campaign touts the fact that he has twice as many friends on his Facebook and MySpace Web pages.

On Tuesday, a poll by SurveyUSA showed 18- to 34-year-olds here overwhelmingly preferring Obama to Republican John McCain, 59 percent to 39 percent. Yet for governor, the same voters preferred Rossi almost as much: 58 percent to 41 percent.

Donovan speculates that an anti-incumbent mood resonates more with younger voters, whose party identification is less crystallized.

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire said the campaign's not ceding any votes. Gregoire's been regularly meeting with college students and young people across the state, said Aaron Toso. Gregoire's final 26-city sweep through the state included stops at WSU, UW and WWU.

And groups backing Gregoire, like the Service Employees International Union, are trying to help her win young votes.

SEIU is running a radio ad featuring two young guys watching a football game. It blasts home foreclosures, $4-a-gallon gas, and developers.

"There is no way I could vote for Dino Rossi," one guy says. "In this economy, the last thing we need is another politician like George Bush, who puts the rich guys first."

Despite the efforts by both sides, however, it remains unclear how much of a force young voters will be in the 2008 election.

On one hand, 18-to-34-year-olds have long had the lowest voter turnout of any age group. They comprise a quarter of Washington's 3.6 million registered voters, but in August's primary election fewer than 1 in 5 bothered to cast a ballot. By comparison, nearly three-quarters of voters 65 or older voted.

But on the other hand, according to the secretary of state's office, young voters are registering in droves this year. Of the more than 340,000 new voters who've registered in Washington this year, more than 200,000 are 35 or younger.

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