WASHINGTON – A diverse coalition of groups that includes wrestling and hip-hop stars is seeking to turn out the youth vote, and has called on the presidential candidates to answer key questions concerning 18- to 30-year-olds.
"We are waiting for the candidates to talk to us. As much as some believe, we don't care whether they use Macs or PCs, or boxers or briefs," said professional wrestler Chris Nowinski, one of several celebrities that attended a Monday news conference to announce the results of a Voter Issues Paper that lists concerns of and questions posed by young voters.
"If you want to reach out to us, if you want to inspire us, read the VIP," Nowinski said.
Standing in front of a "Smackdown Your Vote" (search) banner, Nowinski was joined by wrestling stars Bradshaw, John Cena and Shaniqua as well as hip-hop musician Layzie Bone of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.
The pop culture icons are the faces of a coalition that includes World Wrestling Entertainment (search), the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (search), MTV's Choose or Lose (search) and other partners working to get 20 million young voters to the polls in November.
The coalition is trying to excite young voters, usually termed apathetic, who are frequently turned off by mainstream news media. At Monday's event, the stars energized a crowd of hundreds of college students interning in and visiting Washington, D.C.
"No offense to [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay, but guys like John Cena (search) and Layzie Bone (search) carry a lot more of the youth vote than he does," said Bradshaw, co-chair of Smackdown Your Vote.
"They told me suit and tie today, and this is the best I could do," joked Cena, who was wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball jersey, a backwards baseball cap and a chain link necklace with a large lock at the center. "This is the year we make our voice heard. I'm calling everybody out. We have a voice. Get out and vote."
Surmising that if the candidates address youth concerns they have a better chance of winning the youth vote, the coalition has released a national Voter Issues Paper highlighting the top priorities for young adult voters.
Based on information gleaned from a variety of well-known public opinion polls, the paper concludes that the economy/jobs is the most important issue for young people, followed by Iraq and national security.
"We worry about our first job" and jobs like consulting positions that don't offer health care or other benefits, said Veronica De La Garza, executive director of the Youth Vote Coalition.
"There are a lot of people fighting and dying in Iraq," Bradshaw said, adding that since young people are doing most of the fighting, it naturally is a top youth issue. According to the VIP, 70 percent of America's enlisted solders are under 30.
The rising cost of higher education is also an issue that resonates with young adults.
The VIP encourages young voters to ask questions of the candidates, for instance, how they plan to accelerate job creation, how they will address the issue of providing young adults with affordable health care coverage and how they plan to make it easier for students to attend college or postgraduate courses without accumulating unmanageable debt.
The VIP instructs young people to "ask your questions, demand answers, vote for the candidate that best addresses your concerns and become an active participant in your democracy and your community."
The coalition also encourages candidates to use the VIP as a guide to reaching out to young voters.
"What the Youth VIP does is put the onus on the candidates and says to the candidates: 'You have to go out and show why young people need to vote for you.' It's time for the candidates to start reaching out to young people," said Ivan Frishberg, the outreach and development coordinator for the New Voters Project (search).
Eighteen- to 30-year-olds make up more than 40 million potential voters, but less than half of this number voted in 2000. The speakers stressed the power that young people have.
"It's up to us to make the most of our opportunity to make our voices heard, so why don't we get out there and smackdown our vote," said Shaniqua (search), a tall, muscle-bound 25-year-old, and the only female wrestler at the event.
"The youth can sway the election. It's time that American youth take charge of their future," Bradshaw said.