Mullen | Sub-30s, Save Us: If 18-to-29ers don't put Obama over the top, I'll buy you a beer. 

Lauren Buchman is 26. She works in a Salt Lake City advertising firm. She helped me write this column. I talked to her recently, just after she had visited western Colorado on behalf of the Barack Obama campaign. n

Like tens of thousands of others under the age of 30, Buchman had volunteered to visit a battleground state in hopes of getting out the vote for Obama. The John McCain camp has a similar plan, but nothing in his organization compares with the numbers of young people who identify with the 47-year-old Democrat from Illinois.

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A Gallup Poll for USA Today and MTV/Gallup conducted from Sept. 18-28 among registered voters ages 18 to 29 gave Obama a handy lead over McCain, 61 percent to 32 percent. When asked specific questions about each candidate’s image, experience and ability, the 900 respondents overwhelmingly supported Obama. To the question of “which candidate best understands problems of people your age,” 71 percent favored Obama to McCain’s 12 percent. Forty-six percent saw Obama as “a strong and decisive leader,” while only 36 percent perceived McCain that way. So much for McCain’s claim of showing the most “strength and experience.”

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Lauren Buchman is coming up to her third presidential election. Obama—with his historical first-ever black candidate status and a platform to lift up America’s middle class—is like no other candidate she’s seen. Knocking on doors at the blue-collar homes along Colorado’s Western Slope only helped seal her choice.

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“These are people who can’t buy shoes because the cost of their prescription drugs went up that month,” she said. “For the first time in my life, I’m really paying attention to how the policies of a president can change lives. In health-care policy, in rebuilding the economy, in the tax structure, in making a decent school system, it matters. I now have over 150 different faces from one weekend to apply all this to. It matters to elect Obama.”

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This is the year that every 18- to 29-year-old’s vote counts. Every indicator points to the power of the youngest voters in America to elect a man with the youth, vitality, intellect and compassion to lead this country out of a collective deep funk and back into the sunlight. Youth registration numbers are breaking records. The number of youth rallies and Internet fund-raising levels for Obama are staggering.

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None of it matters if the sub-30s stay home on Election Day.

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Presidential elections happen every four years. Seldom do they add up to a defining moment in our history. Nov. 4 will be different. More than any election perhaps since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s in 1932, this one transcends a typical horse race. Times are bad. At this moment, do you feel even vaguely optimistic about the future? For the first time in decades, this anxiety holds true for the 18-to-29ers, too. And that is why they will turn out in record numbers at the polls this year. They will be the reason Obama goes over the top.

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If not, call me up. I’ll buy you a beer.

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It works like this. Life has been relatively and consistently good for at least a quarter-century. The war in Iraq certainly can’t be discounted, nor can the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But the youngest Americans of voting age have grown up in peacetime for the most part. Their parents have owned homes. They could pretty much find jobs after college graduation.

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When life is smooth, it’s easy to sit back and let your elders run the show. Except sometimes the elders really screw up. They start ridiculous wars for the wrong reasons and send young people to fight them. And often those same elders—in this case, McCain—want to keep them there. Sounding eerily like Richard Nixon of a whole other era, McCain says he’ll bring the troops home. But he’ll do so only when he can be assured of victory and of “peace with honor.”

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The sub-30s have seen their elders rob from the Social Security system to fund other projects. They may be too young to worry much about a heart attack or cancer, but they know the health-care system is dying and their future ability to finance it is in serious doubt. They know the people their parents elected have deregulated the financial industry into complete meltdown.

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The sub-30s know their parents have pretty much signed away their future. They know that John McCain has so Velcroed himself to Bush for seven years that no amount of desperately distancing himself even matters. “I voted 90 percent of the time with the president,” McCain said proudly, and not so long ago.

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The late political scientist V.O. Key Jr. wrote vividly of certain elections so monumental as to realign the country’s future. He tracked voting patterns and interest groups in the South. He pointed to Abraham Lincoln’s abolition of slavery and FDR’s skill at pulling the country from the Great Depression as presidents whose elections realigned America.

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This year a man with a steady voice and message of inclusiveness has the power to absolutely reshape this country. The sub-30s can see that it happens. But only if they get off their asses and make it so.

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