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A.B. Stoddard: Where Clinton must win

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Hillary Clinton may be one of the most famous people in the world, and most people have already decided whether her chance to become our first woman president tops everything else they know of her. But there is a pocket of the electorate left for her to penetrate. Millennials, particularly young women, don’t know Clinton — and they could make or break her.

Young voters, between the ages of 18 and 34, can be just as excited as older voters about finally turning the White House over to a female president. If they support her in strong numbers, they can help her make history. But if they sit out the 2016 election, they could instead help the GOP get the White House back.

{mosads}The Clinton campaign knows, and Democrats fear, that the Obama coalition might not be something they can replicate. In fact, it might be gone. 

If white, college-educated Americans are as enthusiastic about Clinton as they were about Barack Obama, but African-Americans don’t turn out in the same numbers as they did for him, young voters will become a critical group to persuade.

Mitt Romney lost to President Obama in 2012 by fewer than 334,000 votes in a handful of swing states. If Obama hadn’t registered hundreds of thousands of new African-American voters, he would have lost Ohio. 

Clinton will need to invest time and resources this year to galvanize young women, who may feel as impatient as their own mothers about putting a woman in the Oval Office. They can be her new voters.

Reaching millennials will be no simple task. The young tend to be apathetic about politics and intentionally tune out the process. They watched their parents weather the recession, are drowning in student loan debt and lack social trust. And the faith they placed in Obama wasn’t answered — his approval numbers among them continue to deteriorate. 

What poll after poll shows is that millennials are hard to pin down. Between their conflicting views — a small government but an active one, for example — and their distance from the process, they are no easy get.

So while debates over equal pay, student loan debt and income inequality are likely to interest them, policy proposals might not be enough. Capturing the attention of millennials was easier for the Obama campaign in 2008 and again in 2012. Clinton will undoubtedly have just as formidable a presence on the most updated social media platforms, but style often trumps substance. Obama wasn’t just historic, he was new and culturally literate and hip. He oozed confidence and calm. He could not only make a joke, the kids knew he got the joke. Clinton is often wooden and nice, as grandmothers are — grandmothers aren’t exciting or cool.

Voters under 35 are also digital natives who are globally connected and community oriented, and who expect a transparent government. An undecided millennial voter is likely more persuaded by Clinton’s removal and destruction of government property through her private email server than a 50-year-old voter who has grown up watching the Clintons. Brianna Langdon, a 20-year-old from Iowa, told The New York Times she only really knew about Clinton from watching “Saturday Night Live” and that “they portray her as all about herself.” Landon hoped Clinton would prove that wrong.

Right now, Clinton, who has been running for president since 2005, isn’t ready to officially launch her campaign’s policy platform until May or June. She is in a slow-walk phase talking to voters, having released a great, intentionally vague video but hasn’t outlined an agenda. But this is lost time. Until Clinton details her plans, young women will likely only hear about paparazzi, pantsuits and late-night parodies.

It’s time to get her girl power on.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.

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