Hillary Clinton has a major problem with young voters. According to the Washington Post, Sanders won handily over Clinton in Iowa with voters under the age of 45. And voters under the age of 30 supported Sanders to the tune of 84 percent.
We can’t assume that young Sanders voters will support the Republican nominee over Clinton, but some of them might stay home. Moreover, it’s fair to suppose that Clinton’s problems with young voters, such the fact that many simply don’t seem to trust her, apply to a large number of those who aren’t dead set against voting for a Republican.
The age factor could become particularly acute for Clinton if the Republicans nominate Marco Rubio (age 44) or Ted Cruz (age 45). Post writers Rosalind Helderman and Scott Clement say that Rubio would be an especially challenging opponent for Clinton among young voters, and I think that’s probably true.
Rubio certainly is running as the candidate of a new generation in much the way John Kennedy did in 1960, and there are some similarities between this year’s GOP nomination battle and the campaign for the Democratic nomination in ’60.
Like Kennedy, Rubio, generally speaking, isn’t the first choice of his Party’s ideological base. In 1960, hard core liberals tended to prefer Hubert Humphrey or Adlai Stevenson, when he finally entered. (My socialist father backed Humphrey; my New Deal Democrat mother supported Stevenson).
Kennedy was also seen by many as too young and inexperienced for the job, and even as little more than a rich pretty-boy. Eleanor Roosevelt, referring to Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage, said that Kennedy needed to show more courage and fewer profiles.
Humphrey was only 49 at this stage of the 1960 race and hadn’t been in Congress for any longer than Kennedy. But his strong, courageous liberal record (e.g. on civil rights) gave him stature and credibility with the base (a term not yet used for this purpose) that Kennedy lacked. Like Cruz, Humphrey didn’t seem very young.
The analogy to 1960 breaks down because Humphrey did not know how to run an effective presidential campaign and he lacked the financial resources to compete with the Kennedys. Cruz seems to know more than anyone in the race about running and money isn’t a problem.
On the other hand, youthful good looks probably didn’t matter as much in 1960 as they do now. They were an asset for Kennedy, but not unambiguously so.
56 years later, Rubio’s youthful good looks and his ability to connect with young voters are his not-so-secret weapon. If he makes it to the general election and faces Hillary Clinton, I think they might well be a particularly powerful one.
JOHN adds: In a recent Minnesota Poll, Rubio clobbered Hillary Clinton by eight points among young voters. In Minnesota! So I think the difficulty Hillary faces in a matchup with Rubio is not just hypothetical.