Mitt Romney on Monday launched a team of 20-somethings to help him win over young voters who four years ago catapulted Barack Obama to the White House but whose enthusiasm for the president has since waned.
The 11-member "Young Americans for Romney Leadership Team" is charged with closing Obama's double-digit lead over Romney among voters who are under the age of 30.
The panel includes Jeb Bush Jr., the 27-year-old nephew of former President George W. Bush (who originally endorsed former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman for president), David Cardenas, the son of former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Al Cardenas and 31-year-old country music star Beau Davidson.
In 2008, Obama benefited from a record 51 percent turnout among young voters, who favored him over Republican nominee John McCain by a 2-to-1 margin.
Obama is still popular with young voters, but enthusiasm for the president is waning among a group of voters now enduring one of the highest unemployment rates and saddled with record levels of student-loan debt.
Forty-five percent of voters under the age of 30 said they have a "great deal of interest" in the election, down from 63 percent in 2008, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. In another survey, just 56 percent of young voters said they definitely plan to vote in November.
"It is relatively unlikely we'll match the youth turnout rate of 2008 -- which was 51.1 percent -- because enthusiasm so far seems lower and because the new laws regarding voter registration and photo ID in many states could put a damper on youth voting," said Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which studies youth voting and activism.
The only way youth turnout could reach or surpass 51 percent again is if young Republicans show up in large numbers on Election Day, Levine said. That's precisely what Romney expects his fresh-faced team of young political activists, led by his youngest son, Craig, to accomplish.
"Whether it is the fact that half of our recent college graduates are struggling to find good jobs or that our spiraling debt is an enormous burden on our next generation, President Obama has clearly failed young people," Romney said in announcing the youth initiative. "Our next generation needs a president who will look out for them and their futures."
Romney is pitching young voters on three main issues: keeping taxes low, reducing the size of government and creating a robust economy "so graduates don't have to live in their parents' basements," said Christopher Malagisi, a member of Romney's new team and director of the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual confab of conservative leaders and activists.
The campaign plans to organize dozens of "Young Americans for Mitt Romney" chapters on college campuses across the country ahead of the start of the next school year, he said.
"It's very possible for Romney to win [young voters]," Malagisi said. "Or at least to pick up enough that there will be a drastic increase for Republicans from 2008 to 2012."