In every race that the Politicrasher has covered (and there have been far too many to count), the youth vote has been about as reliable as the G train during a blackout.
So this grizzled insider was surprised to see that both 42-year-old congressional upstart Kevin Powell and 13-term incumbent Rep. Ed Towns (D–Fort Greene) have been making such a big deal about wooing the Loch Ness Monster of demographics — the often sought but never delivered niche of 18- to 29-year-olds.
So the Politicrasher tagged along with Powell — a former “Real World” star and hip-hop journalist — and his bright-eyed legion of staffers and volunteers as they chatted up young voters on Smith Street and the Fulton Mall on July 12.
Powell took to the streets less than a week after a campaign fundraising fiasco that promised flaky comic Dave Chappelle, but delivered only disappointment when he — let’s face it, not surprisingly — didn’t show up.
Chappelle’s truancy looked bad, but Powell — dressed in a white Oxford and baggy green trousers with a Yankee’s cap tucked into his belt — was all smiles on Saturday as his volunteers shouted at Fulton Mall shoppers: “Meet your next congressman!”
For a campaign that Powell said in April would be fueled by “young genius,” canvassing the neighborhood armed with only handshakes, handouts and voter registration forms was an old-school tactic that elicited three old-school responses from passersby: confusion, weak handshakes and a few amiable, but unconvincing chats.
In another effort to target the typically disinterested demographic that boasted only a 25-percent turnout in 2006, Powell is distributing a free hip-hop mix CD, “Powell for the People” that comes with a voter registration card in the liner notes. (Politicrasher may be old, but even he knows that kids don’t listen to CDs anymore; perhaps Powell should make the voter registration card available for illegal download.)
Sticking with the hip-hop theme (which, this reporter has determined, the kids love), Powell landed an endorsement at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival from rap legend KRS-One — an emcee more popular with politically minded 40-somethings (like Powell) than apathetic 20-somethings.
Powell’s efforts to lure the college-aged crowd have gone online, where he has more than 2,000 “friends” on the social networking Web sites Facebook and MySpace www.myspac
For now, his main issue seems to be his complaint that Towns refuses to debate him. Refuses to debate? Why worry about that? The youth vote doesn’t go to those League of Women Voters dog-and-pony shows anyway. And do first-time voters read 6,000-word jeremiads on the Huffington Post. This political junkie jumped over to see if Larry David was whining about anything in the same issue.
The good news is that Powell isn’t the only candidate who knows his way around the Interweb. The bad news is that the 74-year-old Towns hasn’t exactly figure out how to use the ‘Net to court voters who are nearly six decades younger than he.
Towns maintains a YouTube channel featuring 22 snooze-inducing videos of the incumbent’s chat with interns (pssst, Ed — they’re not the ones you need to court!).
And his Web site includes “podcasts,” which are actually just Net-ready versions of old Towns speeches — about as attractive to the youth vote as, well, radio broadcasts of old Towns speeches.
The incumbent might be losing to Powell in the Facebook race (imagine! A popular guy like Ed Towns has just 125 “friends” in the online community), but he’s destroying Powell in fundraising. At the end of June, Towns had about $381,065 cash on hand compared to Powell’s measly $19,592.
And a Towns spokesperson even told the Politicrasher that the incumbent has a few celebrity endorsements up his sleeve aimed to woo the traditionally disinterested youth demographic (hopefully they’ll be a little more appealing to young folks than the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, who backed the incumbent in May).
Politicrasher may have gotten clean for Gene in the old days, but if this is how candidates court the youth vote today, this inside-the-Belt-Parkway correspondent doubts either candidate will skateboard his way to an election victory.