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These young Republicans want the GOP to do more to recruit young voters

C.J. Pearson of Georgia, Alyssa Rinelli of Wisconsin and Brilyn Hollyhand of Alabama are working to help the Republican Party mobilize more younger voters.
Sarah McCammon
C.J. Pearson of Georgia, Alyssa Rinelli of Wisconsin and Brilyn Hollyhand of Alabama are working to help the Republican Party mobilize more younger voters.

At just 17, Brilyn Hollyhand is too young to vote in his home state of Alabama's presidential primary next year. He'll have to wait until next November to cast his first ballot as a Republican.

And he wants more young voters to join him.

"We drastically underperformed in the midterms," Hollyhand said of the Republican Party. "I mean, it was embarrassing."

Republicans are up against a widening generation gap. Young voters tend to vote for Democrats overwhelmingly.

But some young Republicans like Hollyhand, who was in Milwaukee last week for the party's first Republican presidential primary debate, hope to change that.

Hollyhand is co-chairman of the Republican National Committee's new youth advisory council, which he says is working to meet young voters where they are — mostly online. He says the RNC assembled a diverse group of voters under 35 for the council.

"That was important to us — that it wasn't just what the traditional Republican Party was of, you know, 10 old white straight males sitting in a boardroom and then trying to tell the country how to run things," he explained. "We didn't want that."

Hollyhand sees his values reflected in today's GOP, and the conservative Supreme Court justices appointed by former President Donald Trump.

As a young, white male himself, Hollyhand says he was concerned that affirmative action might hurt his chances of getting into the best colleges.

"I am a white, straight male, and I'm bottom of the totem pole," he said.

So Hollyhand was pleased with the Supreme Court's recent decision rejecting race-conscious admissions in higher education. His co-chairman on the RNC youth advisory council, C.J. Pearson from Georgia, agrees.

"As a Black man in America, I do not want anything that I achieve to be thought about as, 'Oh, well, sure, I know he's smart; he's pretty articulate; he's pretty well-spoken. And, you know, he's got a good resume. But at the same time, did he really earn that or did he earn it because he's Black?'" Pearson wondered.

As a young, Black Republican, Pearson is an outlier. The GOP lags behind not just with young voters, but with voters of color — and with women.

Young female voters have expressed particularly strong support for abortion rights.

But for 24-year-old old Alyssa Rinelli of Milwaukee, the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade is moving the country in the right direction.

Rinelli says it will promote what she describes as greater "personal responsibility" when it comes to sex.

"If you're going to, you know, do the thing, make sure that you're protected and you're being responsible, and perhaps you're choosing the person that you are going to do it with a little bit more carefully," Rinelli said. "And so I think that's what [the Dobbs decision is] promoting."

Rinelli also thinks her party needs to do a better job of making its case to younger voters. So, she recently started a local Milwaukee County Young Republicans chapter.

"They're really just not in front of young voters the way that Democrats are," Rinelli explained.

But getting the Republican message in front of young voters may not be enough, says Melissa Deckman, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute.

"They can outreach to young voters," she said. "But right now that message I don't think is going to be received very well."

Deckman notes that younger Americans are more diverse, less religious and more likely to identify as LGBTQ. Younger voters tend to differ with Republicans on issues like abortion and climate change.

"The Republican Party right now is not exactly embracing the sorts of issues that those voters care about," Deckman pointed out.

In the midterms, voters 18 to 29 supported Democrats by almost 30 points, according to exit polls. Young Republicans like Brilyn Hollyhand hope to change that, in part by talking to their likeminded peers over the coming months, urging them to get involved.

"My big push over the next few months is educating and making sure that our generation knows how to vote, where to vote, when to vote, all of that," Hollyhand said.

This election cycle, the Republican Party is actively embracing early voting, hoping that push brings in new conservative voters.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.

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