Politics & Policy

2014: The Year of the GOP’s Millennial Candidates

From left: Marilinda Garcia, Paul Dietzel, and Elise Stefanik
In politics, the messenger can be as important as the message.

Less than two weeks from today, something historic could happen in the midterm election — and no, I’m not talking about Republicans’ winning control of the Senate.

Republicans are on the verge of electing three Millennials to Congress.

Polling shows Elise Stefanik of New York (age 29), Marilinda Garcia of New Hampshire (age 31), and Paul Dietzel of Louisiana (age 28) all within the margin of error to win their elections. If they all win, or even if one wins, it could be a game-changer for the GOP’s 2016 chances.

It could. First of all, these candidates have to finish strong and win their races. Then, the Republican party can’t just treat them as “token” young Republicans. The party needs to elevate them quickly in the ranks and give them a national voice.

Most pundits, especially the younger ones, will tell you we need young voices to win the youth vote. It’s simple and makes sense. We’ve lost the youth vote by more than 24 percent in the last two presidential cycles, but that’s not the only reason having vocal young leaders will help Republicans fight demographic trends.

Think of how refreshing it was to the party’s image in 2010 to elect Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio to the Senate — and they’re both over 40 years old. These new candidates offer something even more valuable to the party.

As a young candidate in Virginia, I learned by knocking on doors in low-income neighborhoods, talking with diverse voters at cultural festivals, and chatting with seniors in assisted-living facilities that having a younger, fresher appearance for the Republican party prepares all voters to hear a fresh message.

Voters listen when they hear and see something different. It’s one thing for Republicans to change their message; they do that all the time. But the GOP also needs to change the messengers, to bust the stereotypes and misperceptions about the party.

The single biggest question I got from voters during my campaign — and I know that Elise, Marilinda, and Paul are hearing it as well — was, “You’re young. Why are you a Republican?”

That is the question we want America to be asking in 2016: Why are all these young, energetic, and talented leaders in the GOP?

If voters are asking that question, they are noticing a change. When voters see fresh messengers, I found, they are more likely to actually listen to the message. When they like the messengers, they’re less likely to tune out the message. More voters from diverse communities are able to relate to young leaders than to the stereotypical old and wealthy politicians who currently lead our party.

Am I saying that we should run Stefanik, Garcia, and Dietzel for speaker of the House? No, but when they are elected, they should be some of our most prominent media spokespeople, as opposed to people like Boehner and McConnell.

Especially if Republicans win the Senate, the Democrats’ strategy will be to paint our party as stodgy, out of touch, anti-women, and obstructionist. If we trot out the same old leaders, these accusations will likely stick in voters’ minds and hurt us in 2016.

The best counter is to introduce new Republican messages with new Republican leaders. Each of the three Millennial candidates brings both these elements.

Paul Dietzel is a technology entrepreneur and would be a leader from Day One on building a 21st-century economy. A central theme of Dietzel’s campaign has been getting regulators off the backs of entrepreneurs. Whether it’s self-driving cars, 3D printing for medical and technological uses, or innovative energy-discovery techniques, Dietzel points to specific federal regulations that are slowing down breakthroughs that would dramatically improve our lives.

Elise Stefanik has already worked in the West Wing and as the head of debate prep for Representative Paul Ryan when he ran for vice president, and she served as director of policy for Governor Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign. Her strength is communicating complex economic and health-care policy messages to large, nonpolitical audiences.

State representative Marilinda Garcia has been called the “triple-threat” candidate for a reason, but beyond just her identity as a young Hispanic woman, she has perfected a solid message on immigration and education. She’s also championing “next generation” debt reform to create a more sustainable government for America’s future.

These candidates aren’t a silver bullet for the GOP’s problems. But by electing Paul Dietzel, Elise Stefanik, and Marilinda Garcia, Republicans can change the conversation and breathe new life into the House of Representatives. 

— Ron Meyer, age 25, is the president of Springboard Media Strategies LLC and a former spokesman of Young America’s Foundation. Paul Dietzel is a former client of his.

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