Mitt Romney, grandfather of 16, turned 65 last month, making him officially a senior citizen.
For a Republican Party whose last presidential candidate would have been 72 on Inauguration Day, this qualifies as “youthful.”
His campaign surrogates argued on Tuesday that despite Democrats’ dominant advantage with under-30 voters in the polls, the GOP will win them back in November — in part thanks to Romney’s relative age.
“My guess is you’ll see a dramatic difference in the youth vote this time — part of it is you have a younger, more dynamic Republican candidate,” Hank Brown, 72, a retired senator and former Colorado University president, said on a Romney campaign conference call. “Whether it’s entitlement reform or a youthful candidate or the potential of jobs, you’re going to have many different factors at work with regard to young people.”
Brown said that Obama was “able to fool a number of our college students into supporting his campaign,” in 2008 but he expects a “dramatic turnaround” thanks to the weak job market for recent graduates. The Romney camp included the 23-year old chair of the College Republican National Committee, Alex Schriver, in the call to back up their point that the economy would help win back younger voters.
John McCain was significantly older than Romney when he became his party’s nominee, though at times over the last decade he actually was considered one of the more popular members of his party with younger voters. He often appeared on “The Daily Show,” where he enjoyed a strong relationship with its host, Jon Stewart. But by 2008, Obama had become the clear Millennial candidate and took 66 percent of the under-30 vote nationally.
Nonetheless, the call this week is the latest sign that the Romney is still making a push for historically strong Democratic constituencies, whether it’s young people, women or Hispanic voters. Romney’s offensive comes as Obama and his campaign are embarking on a weeklong effort to highlight student debt, trying to garner support for extending a 2007 measure that would prevent interest rates on subsidized student loans from doubling. Romney broke with key House Republicans on Monday by saying he supports efforts to keep the lower rates in place. Romney supporter Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL), one of the youngest members of the House, said on Tuesday’s call that keeping the rates from doubling will likely require spending cuts elsewhere to bring his colleagues aboard. But he hinted that the GOP should be careful when it comes to young voters, and warned that mishandling issues important to students could hand Democrats a bludgeon to use against them.
“In the grand scheme of things we shouldn’t allow issues like this to bog down the bigger agenda, which is how do we create jobs in this country,” he said.
Democrats are pressing the issue regardless of Romney’s position on the extension by pointing to broader cuts to student grants in the House GOP budget that Romney has said he supports.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.