COLUMBIA — All politics was local at the Blue Fugue on Thursday night.The MU Democrats and the Young Democrats of Missouri banded together to rally college-age members of their party for the next 46 days of phone-calling, door-knocking and volunteering leading up to the November general election.
Four Columbia rock bands entertained nearly 100 college Democrats from MU, Stephens College, Columbia College and Southeast Missouri State University while state Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, and Stephen Webber, who is running unopposed for the 23rd District House seat, tried to fire up the crowd of young voters.
"It's great to see so many Democrats so excited," Graham said. "This is by far the most excited I've seen Democrats for an election."
The youth voter turnout has increased substantially from an all-time low in 2000, when only 36.1 percent of eligible 18- to 24-year-olds bothered voting. In 2004, that number went up 11 percent. Recent stops in Columbia from Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, vice presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright have illustrated the vital role young voters play in the Democrats' strategy.
"I've heard a lot of people say ‘young people don't vote,'" Graham said. "I've heard it over and over."
Graham noted that Republican Sen. John McCain's recent lead in Missouri polls about the presidential election was because of the obsolete nature of polls conducted through land-line telephones. He said McCain's 10-point lead will evaporate quickly when young people show up to vote Nov. 4.
"You know what, they're underestimating everyone in this room," Graham said.
Nate Kennedy started Demstock in 2006 when he was president of MU College Democrats. Kennedy is now president of the College Democrats of Missouri. He sees Demstock as a growing tradition that will bring young Democrats together to meet local candidates - and to let off some steam.
"(Demstock) is really there to energize and rally our supporters," he said. "When students can meet the candidates and get a chance to know them better, ... they're more willing to get out and work for them."
MU Democrats have already been working hard to expand voter registration and awareness both on and off campus. Kim Smith is a freshman at MU and has been campaigning door-to-door for presidential candidate Barack Obama once a week since arriving in Columbia.
"It's so important for young people to get their voices heard," she said. While some in the media dismiss the youth vote as mere hype, she insists it's anything but.
"(Young Democrats) are really successful because they are really passionate about issues like affordable public education."
Webber, who is 25, didn't stand out in the crowd of young faces, but his message certainly resonated with the group.
"We have the most to gain or the most to lose in this election," he said. "We are the ones serving over in Iraq. ...We are the ones who have to work in the future economy."
Graham echoed Webber's sentiments in an interview after the speech and insisted that the youth vote in Missouri is for real.
"Obama attracted a lot of young people into the process, but Jay Nixon (the Democratic candidate for governor) is doing a good job at attracting people to volunteer and work for his campaign," Graham said.
Asked how the youth vote would affect election results in Boone County, Graham smiled.
"Boone County has gone Republican three times since the Civil War," he said. "That's not going to happen this year."