A national progressive group focused on engaging younger voters plans to spend $2 million in Maine and hire more than two dozen staffers to oppose Republican Sen. Susan Collins and President Trump next year.

NextGen America’s sizable campaign presence in Maine – one of 11 states targeted by the group founded by billionaire and Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer – is the latest example of how organizations on both sides of the political aisle are devoting significant resources to courting the youth vote headed into 2020.

For NextGen America, that means hiring 32 on-the-ground staff members in Maine, holding voter registration and youth engagement events on more than two dozen college campuses, and likely advertising to oppose Collins and support Democratic candidates on the ballot.

“We’re already out on campuses working with younger communities across the state,” said Julian Snow, a Knox County native who is directing the NextGen efforts in Maine. “We already have organizers on the ground.”

Republicans have a similar, if less robust, effort underway in Maine and across the country.

The Maine Republican Party has been working with the Republican National Committee and the Trump Victory Campaign to hold “Make Campus Great Again” events. A large focus of such events — which have been held at the University of Maine, Bates College, Maine Maritime Academy and the University of Maine at Farmington — is to register students to vote and counter a perception that all college students lean Democratic.

Mandi Merritt, regional communications director for the Republican National Committee, said she is seeing a growth trend of millennials who are “energized” by the president, particularly his push for free speech on college campuses. But perhaps the most important issue for many college students, Merritt said, is being able to get a job after graduation, and she pointed out that the U.S. is enjoying a period of historically low unemployment rates under Trump.

“We’ve seen a lot of strong support for President Trump” on campuses, Merritt said.

Turnout by voters in their late teens and 20s fluctuates wildly election-to-election but is always predictably smaller than every other age demographic.

During the 2016 presidential election, for instance, just 46 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 went to the polls, according to voting statistics compiled by the Census Bureau. That’s compared to 59 percent of 30- to 44-year-olds, 67 percent of 45- to 64-year-olds and 71 percent of those age 65 or older.

But youth voter participation jumped higher in 2018 than in any other age group. While participation in midterm elections is always lower across the demographics, the number of 18- to 29-year-olds who voted jumped from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018.

The political action committee NextGen America was first launched by Steyer in 2013 but was originally called NextGen Climate because of its focus on climate change and environmental issues. Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund manager who has been campaigning to impeach President Trump for several years, stepped down as president of NextGen America in July after announcing his candidacy for president.

In 2016, the group began focusing heavily on registering younger people to vote. And since that time, the organization claims to have registered more than 1.3 million people and contacted millions more.

In 2020, NextGen America has pledged to spend $45 million nationwide on its campaign to register 270,000 new voters and recruit get-out-the-vote volunteers in the 11 targeted states. The group also says it wants to achieve 66 percent support among younger voters (ages 18 to 35) for Democratic Senate and presidential candidates in those states.

In Maine, the group aims to register 7,000 youth voters and reach at least 45,000 people under age 35 during the 2020 elections. And when it comes to candidates, NextGen Maine is among the growing list of big-money liberal groups that are aiming for Collins.

A four-term Republican, Collins has enjoyed bipartisan support in past elections thanks to her reputation as a moderate and a collaborative dealmaker in Congress. But Collins faces what is expected to be the toughest re-election campaign of her career – if she decides to officially enter the race – amid strong backlash from the left to her votes to support Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and for a $1.5 trillion Republican tax bill.

The organization’s website says NextGen Maine is “determined to oust Senator Susan Collins” and “aims to secure all four of Maine’s Electoral College votes for the Democratic presidential nominee.” In 2016, Trump picked up one of Maine’s four electors by winning the majority of votes in the 2nd Congressional District.

“For too long, elected officials like Senator Susan Collins have turned a blind eye to the needs of Maine’s youth, ignoring the rising challenges of climate change, student debt and the opioid epidemic,” Snow said. “In response to this lack of action, a growing movement of engaged young voters is demanding new leadership.”

NextGen Maine said it plans to be active on 25 college campuses, including the state’s community colleges. And Snow said the group is working to hire the remaining field organizers (primarily Maine residents) by early January.

“We are part of that age demographic that needs to be mobilized,” Snow said.

This is, of course, by no means the first effort to increase voter registration and political engagement among young voters. There was a similar effort in 2018 by a group called Maine Student Action. And many of the various political organizations on campuses – such as the UMaine College Democrats or UMaine College Republicans – regularly work on registering students.

“I think there is a misnomer that young people only support ‘the left,’ and certainly campuses have become the bastion for liberal ideology,” said Merritt with the Republican National Committee. “But when it comes to issues that college students care about, finding a job after graduation is probably No. 1 on their list … and we see a lot of people wanting to get involved on the campuses.”


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