It was the typical stuff of a college frat party: pepperoni pizza, cheap beer, a big-screen television and a vigorous game of the drinking game Beirut. But on this night, friends of Sigma Alpha Epsilon had gathered for a different kind of party. "Dude, Obama's got Florida!" someone shouted during the final moments of the 2008 campaign. "Turn the volume up!" bellowed another.
The 20 or so University of Pennsylvania College Republicans gathered in this Animal House-like two-story apartment are a rare breed among Obama-crazy Philadelphians. By the time NEWSWEEK arrived at their election celebration Tuesday, the young GOPers knew their candidate, John McCain, was on a sinking ship. "I'm outnumbered, I'm annoyed, I want it to be over," joked Peter Devine, 20, a finance major at the Wharton School of Business. But the group was surprisingly upbeat, considering the circumstances: as Ohio and Pennsylvania were announced for Obama, the chatter barely paused. "Who's next for flip cup?" someone shouted.
Yet even as they drown their sorrows in warm cans of Natty Lite, these young Republicans were dissecting what went wrong. "McCain never capitalized on a clear message," said Devine, a Maine native who is the group's secretary. "We did a bad job of communicating who we are and what we stand for," said senior Kelly Siddle of Wyoming. "If the Republican brand was dog food, you'd have to take it off the shelf right now," quipped Michael Tate, 20, borrowing a quote from Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia. As the world looks ahead, we asked these future leaders to assess their party's future. Their advice:
Peter Devine, 20
Home State: Maine
Advice for the Party: I think the party compromised this year. Mike Huckabee at least energized people. Conservatives need to retake this party. People want fiscal responsibility. Part of McCain's campaign flaw was trying to make [Gov. Sarah] Palin into something she wasn't.
Sarah Brown, 19
Home State: Alaska
Advice for the Party: I see the future of Republicans in candidates like Sarah Palin. She's down to earth, she's tough, she's an aggressive, strong woman but is also charismatic and presents herself well. It seems like somebody like her who's young, attractive and a little more hip could really appeal to the younger base of the Republican Party.
Michael Tate, 20
Home State: Florida
Advice for the Party: I think some of the issues need to be modernized, in terms of technology, science, research and development.
Kelly Siddle, 22
Home State: Wyoming
Major: Political Science
Advice for the Party: It's easy to get lost in the political rhetoric, and we need to be able to show the people that we are a compassionate party [that] has ideas to really help people to make advances in this country. It's our responsibility to connect to the voters and give them hope for the future.
Aliana Greenberg, 17
Home State: California
Advice for the Party: I think Repubs really need to look to youth outreach. Right now it's cool to be a liberal, it's cool to be a Democrat, but a lot of the core Republican morals, like individualism and government out of personal lives is very applicable to the youth—we don't want people telling us what to do. I think if the Republican Party made that more understandable to the youth we'd do a lot better.