College voter registration drive

NextGen Pennsylvania holds a voter registration drive at Drexel University. — NextGen Pennsylvania

A PAC partially funded by billionaire Tom Steyer, who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination, is targeting college students and young voters as it looks to win back Pennsylvania from the GOP in 2020.

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania wing of NextGen America announced that it had launched a statewide, $4.5 million effort to register 40,000 voters aged 18-35 in a critical battleground state. The effort will include in-person and online outreach, as well as through mail contact, the group said in a statement.

“Young Pennsylvanians are determined to make the difference in an election that has massive implications for our futures,” NextGen’s Pennsylvania state director, Larissa Sweitzer, said in that statement. “We know that the results of the race could hinge on our votes, and we’ll bring that motivation to our organizing every day between now and the election.”

Though Steyer founded NextGen America, he has stepped down from the organization and legally cannot communicate or coordinate with the group because he is a candidate for federal office, a national spokesperson for the group said.

President Donald Trump carried Pennsylvania by slightly more than 44,000 votes in 2016, breaking a three-decade-old winning streak for Democrats in presidential years. Trump has visited the state several times in the last few weeks.

And both former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, who are contending for the Democratic nomination in 2020, have opened offices in Philadelphia — as Dems look to recapture the Keystone State’s 20 electoral votes.

The effort in Pennsylvania is part of a broader, $45 million, nationwide effort aimed at registering about 270,000 young voters in 11 battleground states.

Research has shown that outreach to this critical electoral bloc has paid off. Energized by the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. voter registration in Pennsylvania by 16 percentage points statewide in the months before the 2018 midterms, PennLive reported at the time.

Those voters also turned out at the ballot box in 2018, with participation among young voters increasing from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018, an increase of 79 percent, and the largest of any age group, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.

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