There were no more than a handful of people younger than 45 in a room packed with more than 150 attendees at last weekend’s Wyoming Republican Party Central Committee Meeting.
Republicans haven’t historically drawn nearly as many young voters as Democrats on a national level, something the GOP has attempted to address in fits and starts over the years.
After Mitt Romney’s 2012 election loss to former President Barack Obama, the Republican National Committee commissioned a self-assessment of the party.
“Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents,” the report says. “On messaging, we must change our tone — especially on certain social issues that are turning off young voters. In every session with young voters, social issues were at the forefront of the discussion; many see them as the civil rights issues of our time.”
Despite talk of a “red wave” overtaking Democratic majorities in the U.S. Senate and the House in the midterm elections last fall, Republicans only achieved modest results, taking a small majority in the House and losing a seat in the Senate.
In these elections, only 23% of eligible young people voted, according to Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
Some say the party needs to tweak its policies to attract younger members by taking stances closer to the center of the political spectrum, like adding exceptions to abortion bans, not opposing alternative energies and supporting some forms of gun control.
Young Republicans in Wyoming also make up a small number of the state party’s ranks, an issue that some state GOP members see as problematic while others say it’s not an issue here.
State Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said although he believes this is a growing problem for the party on a national level, he believes Wyoming will remain a Republican majority at least for the next few generations.
Dallas Tyrrell, a Laramie County committeeman, said he’s used to being the youngest in the room when he goes to Republican events. On Saturday, the 30-year-old said he wished this wasn’t the case.
“That’s always the down part of the Republican Party,” he said.
Although he agrees with the Republican Party platform 100%, Tyrrell said there should be an effort to recruit younger people who may have slightly more moderate views.
“Most young people I know are not interested in coming to the party meetings,” he said. “Maybe they’ve felt they’re not welcomed by the party.”
The current leadership and majority of the state GOP have made it clear they only consider those who adhere to most of the party’s platform to be true Republicans.
‘We Tend To Be An Aging, White Party’
Zwonitzer said today’s younger generations aren’t as rigid as their older counterparts when it comes to social issues, even though they may share similar outlooks on other issues like fiscal spending and a pro-business tax structure.
He said this has resulted in more younger voters than ever choosing the Democratic Party.
Adding further urgency is the fact minority voters tend to prefer Democrats, although Hispanics have been drifting to Republican ranks in higher numbers in recent years.
“With all the demographic changes that have been occurring, we have to find messaging that’s more diverse,” Zwonitzer said. “We tend to be an aging, White party.”
Zwonitzer believes the Democratic and Republican parties will either return to their traditional platforms in 20 years or split into multiple new parties, creating a new political landscape similar to what is seen in European politics.
The Republican Party has opted to take a firm stance on issues like transgender rights and abortion in recent years.
Younger people are much more likely to personally know someone who is transgender, or someone who has recently been posed with the question of whether to receive an abortion, than an older member of society.
Although Janae Miller, chairman of the Niobrara County Republican Party, agrees with the party’s stance on most transgender issues, she went to school with a few transgender individuals at the University of Wyoming and said she understands the challenges they face.
Also in attendance at Saturday’s Republican meeting was Democratic state Rep. Mike Yin of Jackson.
Yin said by taking some of the stances the Republican Party has made, it has created an environment where young people feel like there are a lack job opportunities and likeminded people in their communities.
“When we create policies that push people away, I think all of those things make it so young people don’t want to stick around in the state of Wyoming,” he said.
The Carbon County Republican Party has 24 of 50 possible precinct committee seats filled.
Chairman Paul Metevier said the party is actively looking at recruiting new members for the current and future stability of the local party. The party plans to host a daddy-daughter ball and a pancake breakfast to help with these efforts.
Tyrrell believes the GOP needs to get more youth involved no matter what it takes. By having a simple conversation, he believes trust can be built.
He mentioned his recent successful campaign for state committeeman, where he called every person in the Laramie County Republican Party he believed didn’t plan on voting for him, an effort he believes helped him flip nearly every vote.
“At the end of the day, most things can be done with a simple conversation,” he said.
Johnson County Committeewoman Kristen Crago’s daughter has recently got involved with a few leadership-oriented causes like the American Legion’s Girls State and Girls Nation, experiences Crago said inspired her daughter to want to go to law school.
“It fired her up,” she said.
Crago said if the party were to take an active role in encouraging and recruiting youth to engage in causes like this, it could help foster a relationship or positive emotion with the party from a young age.
Lincoln County Republican Party Chairman Wade Hirschi offered a similar sentiment, saying the party needs to actively work with high school students.
Mary Martin, chairman of the Teton County Republican Party, sees eye-to-eye with the young voter dilemma, living in of the youngest and most Democratic counties in the state.
“I’m probably one of the most conservative people you can meet, but I walk in a world where I need to be moderate,” she said. “I have learned in my long tenure that listening to people with other views can actually help me be better informed.”
Another young face from the weekend was Teton County Committeewoman Katherine Rueckert. Rueckert, who graduated college in 2018, said the party “absolutely” needs to get more young people involved.
But sometimes it takes time for younger people to realize they can be more fulfilled and successful by self-funding their own endeavors and embracing Republican principles, she said.
“We just need to be honest with people,” she said. “A lot of young people think the government can solve their problems, and it really can’t.”
Rueckert was encouraged by the Wyoming Republican Party choosing Teton County to host its most important quarterly central committee meeting of the year, one of the few places in the state where Republicans are in the minority.
“I think it was brilliant to have it there,” Rueckert said. “People in Wyoming are so encouraging.”
Jackson Republican Brett Vance said the party will never gain back his county if it doesn’t engage in recruiting efforts. He said Republicans have significant potential for growth in Teton County, as he believes many people who don’t typically vote there hold Republican values.
But some in state conservative circles have openly disagreed with the position that Wyoming Republicans need to get younger.
According to The Washington Post, there was a substantial campus turnout in the recent election of Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz.
Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who furthered Trump’s claims the 2020 election was stolen, declared that polling places located close to dorms made it easier for students “to roll out of bed, vote, and go back to bed.”
She suggested new restrictions on campus voting sites.
Wyoming GOP Executive Director Kathy Russell acknowledged the great majority of her party’s members are older and retired, but said the state party doesn’t need to worry about getting younger members involved.
“There’s a myth, a narrative that young people are not involved,” she said.
Russell said there are many younger Republicans who are already involved with a number of other conservative causes around the state in their local churches and participating in groups like Moms for Liberty, which fights for parental rights in all levels of government and regularly attends school board meetings around the state.
There’s also a growing chapter of Turning Point USA at the University of Wyoming, according to an April 28 story in the Casper Star-Tribune.
Additionally, a new chapter has formed within the Wyoming Republican Women called the Wyoming Republican Women Riding for the Brand. The chapter will hold all of its meetings virtually and in evenings, allowing members with less free time on their hands, like young mothers, to be able to more easily attend meetings from home rather than travel to a different part of the state.
“I did mine (meeting) from my kitchen table,” said Donna Rice, secretary of the Wyoming Republican Party.
Contact Leo Wolfson at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.