Pa. GOP courts college voters, activists at youngest-ever leadership conference

CAMP HILL, Pa. (WHTM) – Local Republicans wrapped up day two of the biggest-ever Pennsylvania Leadership Conference Saturday afternoon.

This year, the demographics changed.

The highlight on Saturday was the final tally of a two-day straw poll. But before we get to the results, let’s talk about the voters casting those ballots.

Take Mary and Bob Wert from Berks County; they’re involved in the issues and know they’re voting for Ted Cruz.

But Bob noticed a change in the conference this year.

“It’s gratifying to see all the energy that’s here,” he said, “all the young people that are here.”

That’s by design.

“We made a concerted effort this year, working with a number of our partner groups to reach out to university, college students, to recent graduates,” said Pennsylvania Leadership Council president Lowman Henry.

It worked: this was the youngest conference on record. Several hundred young voters turned out.

Taylor Destefano, a college student from Linglestown, was one of them, hoping to bring a burst of new energy.

“And I think it’s a way for younger people like me and, you know, some of my friends that are here to get our voices heard,” she said.

Both candidates who made appearances in the Midstate this weekend appear to be listening.

“You remember the deal,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich said at an event in Hershey on Friday. “You went to college, you got a good job. Now you go to college and you don’t get a job.”

Kasich talked about the need to make college cheaper and to grow the economy.

“We’re going to see wages rising for Americans across this county,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told ABC27’s Dennis Owens, “and we’re going to see young people coming out of school with two, three, four, five job offers.”

He touted his plan to cut down on regulation to increase prospects.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump is given credit for bringing new voters, especially younger ones, into the party. Destefano said whether you like his style or not, it’s a good thing for the GOP.

“Young people need to understand that this election’s very important,” said Temple University student and first-time conference attendee Adam Krizner, “and I think a lot of people do understand that.”

Conference leaders say it doesn’t matter who they vote for, as long as young people are involved in the party.

Now back to that straw poll: Cruz won by a wide margin, capturing 247 of the 382 ballots cast. Donald Trump was second with 52, and Kasich was just a vote behind at 51.

The Pennsylvania primary is April 26.

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