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National President Of Young Democrats Tours Missouri to Energize Young Voters

Jo Mannies
St. Louis Public Radio & The Beacon
Atima Omara

Atima Omara, president of the Young Democrats of America,  is in Missouri this weekend as part of her group’s efforts to avoid a replay of 2010 next year.

In 2010, Republicans made huge election gains, including in Missouri. Credit, or blame, went in part to a sharp decline in turnout among young voters, who as a bloc lean Democratic.

The under-30 age group played a significant role in 2008, when a strong Democratic turnout swept Barack Obama into the White House and resulted in Democrats capturing all but one statewide contest in Missouri.

In 2010, the reverse was true nationally, and in Missouri. Republican Roy Blunt won his U.S. Senate seat by a double-digit percentage, while fellow Republican Tom Schweich ousted Democratic incumbent Susan Montee for state auditor. The GOP also gained seats in the Missouri General Assembly.

“Turning out the youth vote will make the difference in the 2014 races,’’ Omara said during an interview Saturday in St. Louis. “When young people turn out, it tends to heavily favor Democratic candidates and progressive causes.”

Omara, 32, spent the weekend in Missouri to visit Young Democrat activists in the state’s three largest Democratic-leaning areas: St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City.

She said the trip is aimed at energizing Young Democrat chapters to do what they can to turn out young voters in their areas, which she hopes will  help Democratic candidates for local and legislative offices in Missouri.  The state has only one statewide contest, as Schweich seeks re-election.

The Democratic focus on young voters comes amid polls that have shown disenchantment, disinterest and distrust among young voters.

Missouri is among several states that Omara plans to visit. She was invited to Missouri by organizers of Molli's List, a Democratic-aligned political action committee in Missouri that promotes women candidates.

Omara is the national organization’s first African-American woman president.  Her targeted audience includes not only young voters but women as well.  Focusing on local and legislative races is key, she said, because those lower contests often are where young Democrats -- especially women -- first compete for office.

Omara says she first got involved in politics more than a decade ago because of her support for women’s rights and reproductive rights. She was upset at President George W. Bush’s approval of a measure aimed at ending most late-term abortions. “There wasn’t even an exception for the health of the mother,’’ she said.

Omara now is emphasizing women’s rights during her trips as well, as part of the Democratic bid to bolster its current edge among women voters.  In 2010, the turnout among women -- especially young women -- had declined as well from 2008.

Obama’s edge among women voters is deemed a key reason he won re-election in 2012.

A strong turnout among women voters in 2014, she said, could have a huge pro-Democratic impact.  Likewise, if fewer women vote next year, Omara says there’s no question the GOP will benefit.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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