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Gubernatorial Candidates Hunt for "Sleeping Giant" Youth Vote

Rob Ferrell/Goucher

Ashley Aylward is a senior at Goucher College in Towson, majoring in political science. She wants to run for office one day. When she opened a Democratic gubernatorial forum at the Ungar Athenaeum at Goucher, Aylward wanted the seven candidates who particiapated to know something about young voters.


"Contrary to popular opinion, we do care about issues far greater than the legalization of marijuana,” Aylward said.



And she ticked off a few, such as student debt and jobs.


But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, fewer than a quarter of young people in Maryland voted in the 2014 midterm elections. It can be a challenge for young people to be heard, when they traditionally don’t turn out in large numbers to vote.


Aylward said candidates should connect with voters her age on social media and offer specifics because they really do care about issues.


So, here are some. Students wrote the questions the candidates were asked. 


When it comes to sexual harassment and abuse, Krish Vignarajah, the only woman in the race, said more women need to be in positions of power.


Vignarajah said, “In a state as progressive and cosmopolitan as Maryland, out of 14 federal and statewide offices _ eight congressmen, two senators, the lieutenant governor, governor, attorney general and comptroller _ all 14 positions are filled by men.”


Vignarajah was then-First Lady Michele Obama’s policy director. 


Credit John Lee

Several of the candidates talked about the need to relieve students of college debt. Jim Shea, who was chairman of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, tied debt relief to voting.


“We need new leaders," Shea said. "We need you to come forward. We need you to vote this time. Vote for any of us, but be sure to vote. And civic engagement, along with the erasure of your debt, would be a perfect way to get started on that.”


Alec Ross, who was an advisor to Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state, said the environment is under assault from the administration of President Donald Trump. Ross said Maryland’s attorney general should have all the money he needs to take legal action.


“That contests every piece of crack-smokin,’ crazy, anti-environmental policy that comes out of the Trump administration,” Ross said.


The students who attended the Goucher Gubernatorial Forum are politically motivated. But across campus, sophomore Olivia Robertson, who was manning the box office at Kraushaar Auditorium, said the 2018 election is not exactly the talk of the campus.


“No one from school that I know has brought it up at all,” Robertson said.


So, how do candidates reach those students? 


In part of his pitch, candidate Ben Jealous dropped U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ name. Jealous co-chaired Sanders’ presidential campaign in Maryland. He also has the senator’s endorsement in the race for governor. 


Jealous said the No. 1 issue for young voters is turning out more young voters.


“Young people are often cut out of the equation when it comes time to make bills to push forward," Jealous said. "And you’ve got to understand they have the power to insert themselves into the equation.”


Goucher Political Science Professor Mileah Kromer said they are an elusive vote.


“If one candidate could actually figure out the magic metric to get young people to vote, that candidate would win.”


Kromer said candidates still need to try to reach out to young voters. She calls them a "sleeping giant." 


The other candidates at the forum were Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, state Sen. Richard Madaleno and Ralph Jaffe. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker didn’t attend.


The Democratic primary is June 26.













John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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