Win the Youth Vote

02.06.13

Young Voters Want More than Tupac, Sen. Rubio

Video screenshot

Buzzfeed hosted Senator Marco Rubio last night at the 201 bar on Capitol Hill. Rubio and Buzzfeed supremo Ben Smith sat in two big armchairs and tried to make themselves heard over the room's weird acoustics and milling throng.

On his way to a decision about a 2016 presidential run, Rubio will meet with donors and activists to seek and test support. This process has been aptly called the "invisible primary." On the Republican side, almost every voter in that invisible primary is over 60 years old.

Buzzfeed attracts a younger group. The crowd at 201 was almost entirely under 35, many in their 20s. Could Rubio talk to them more effectively than Republicans usually do?

Short answer: Maybe. But he's not doing it now.

Ben Smith fed Rubio an opening gambit, asking the 41-year-old senator about his enthusiasm for hip-hop. Rubio delivered a comfortable answer about his preference for the music of Tupac over Biggie. Smooth! He elicited laughs too. Well played.

Yet if all it took to reach young voters was to talk knowledgeably about their music, then Paul Ryan would have emerged as the tribune of the young in 2012. Music is just an icebreaker. Then young voters, like all voters, want an agenda that addresses them.

Rubio is trying hard to develop such an agenda. In his Buzzfeed talk, he sought to back away from his previous hard line on gay issues, emphasizing his preference for a "federal" solution on marriage rights. He reminded listeners that he had depended on student loans. His immigration proposals have a generational impact too.

And yet, on the central concern of youth voters - jobs and opportunity - the senator had nothing interesting to say. He'd better find that something interesting, before he launches the presidential campaign he's plainly contemplating.