Clinton struggling with younger voters


DES MOINES — Approximately 600 people filled Elwell Family Food Center at the Iowa State Fairgrounds to hear Hillary Rodham Clinton speak — some standing, some sitting at tables, and for a while as they were eating either their fill of hot dogs and burgers, some even sat on the floor.

Clinton’s Iowa campaign, Hillary for Iowa, launched Sunday with the largest event the former secretary of State has held in Iowa since announcing her candidacy.

Families with young children and elderly Iowans were the majority, but sprinkled throughout the attendees were smaller groups of college-age students.

Ellen Shipitalo was one.

Shipitalo is working toward a master’s degree and is only paying $15,000 a year — but she had to go to Canada to get that deal.

An Iowa resident, Shipitalo said she applied to many schools in the United States but would have to pay $40,000 a year. She said what she wanted to hear most from Clinton was, of course, student tuition.

“For me to become a Hillary supporter, that’s going to take time,” Shipitalo said.

Though there were groups of students in attendance, many were unsure whether they would vote for Clinton.

Some of the older attendees, such as Dana Shepherd, a 66-year-old from Waukee who said she supported women because she likes “a woman with brass balls,” were more gung-ho on Clinton.

During her speech on Sunday, Clinton spoke little about education but began speaking about K-12 education and how teachers need to be treated with more respect. She only had a small comment about how college needs to be more affordable.

“Let’s make college affordable, available to all, and lift the crushing burden of student debt,” she said during her speech.

David Yepsen, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said right now with school out, there might be larger crowds of students at political events such as Clinton’s, but the size of the crowd also doesn’t translate to caucus voters.

Though she did not get the young vote in 2008, Yepsen said, this is still a new generation and Clinton will have to reintroduce herself to young voters.

He said that students don’t really start thinking about which candidate to vote for president until the election year.

“It’s a different set of young people,” Yepsen said. “It’s the younger brothers and sisters of the people who were there for Obama.”

Lauren Freeman, the president of the University of Iowa Democrats, said she believes students want to hear about issues that affect them, such as tuition, student debt, climate change, and even the economy, because they will one day be the ones looking for jobs.

In addition, she said, if campaigns are willing to work with university groups, it will be better publicized and bring in a larger crowd of students.

Kimberly Ayers, originally from Maine, now lives in Ames and just graduated with a Ph.D. in mathematics. The 26-year-old said she is “undecided on Hillary” and went out to the event Sunday to see if she could be swayed.

One of her main concerns was Clinton’s age.

Clinton knows she isn’t the most youthful candidate in this presidential-election season.

“Well, I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States,” Clinton said at her Iowa campaign launch on Sunday, which provoked the loudest cheering and clapping of the afternoon. It even prompted the crowd to start chanting “Hillary,” which lasted a couple of seconds before she tried to continue her speech.

Ayers, however, said she feels like Clinton is out of touch, and doesn’t connect well with younger voters, unlike some of the other candidates she has seen, such as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Bobby Fleming, a 20-year-old who is a student at University of Northern Iowa, who was also in attendance, didn’t know if he would vote for Clinton.

He said he was doing his duty as a voter and hearing as many candidates as possible before making his decision.

“I felt like it would be good for younger people my age to experience grass-roots politics … I felt like coming in and doing my part,” he said.

Politics reporter Brent Griffiths contributed to this story.

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