A group of young Republicans isn’t waiting for party leaders to sort out the future of the party, they’re putting their money, time and organizing prowess to work.
Concord 51, the brainchild of a group of young fiscal conservatives in New York City in their late 20s, among others, is looking to mobilize Republicans under 35 into a national movement.
The group, launched as a political action committee in the 2012 cycle, is moving aggressively to broaden beyond the Big Apple — already to Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Charlotte, Oklahoma City and Dallas — raising more money to contribute to candidates who are aligned with their beliefs and establishing a 501(c)4 that will allow them to do advertising and issue advocacy.
They’ve also caught the attention of big-name Republicans like former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
They’re building enthusiasm around a set of conservative values that are more appealing to younger voters, they say — more inclusive of gays, minorities and women — the bigger tent that the GOP needs to build if it wants to win national elections.
“We’ve created communications and a brand that is representative of not necessarily party politics, but what we believe to be the politics of our generation,” said Matthew Swift, a co-founder of Concord 51, who works at a management company.
While much of the GOP’s public soul searching has been over the use of technology, how outside groups spent money and the need to draw Hispanics into the fold, Republicans also have fallen behind in drawing younger voters. President Barack Obama won the youth vote 67 percent to 30 percent nationally with young voters providing a significant difference in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, according to an analysis by the Center for Research and Information of Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.
Concord 51’s founders hope to change that.
“Republicans got whipped pretty good in the election, and they are still pretty whipped,” board member Billy Fennebresque, a former hedge fund analyst who founded A2 Capital, said of Republicans status after the 2012 election. “We’re offering an outlet for people to have sort of a bigger-tent focus on Republicans, and ideally, if we can be policy-focused on specific things, support candidates for very specific reasons and policy reasons, we can cast a wider net.”
Following the election, Concord 51’s board members huddled in early December, trying to figure out how they wanted to move forward. Swift said a desire to move to a national scope was clear at that meeting.
“Everybody walked out thinking this could be a very successful national movement … the market is wide open. The competition isn’t particularly fierce, and I think the RNC would agree with us,” Swift said.
In 2013, they are looking to raise more than $500,000 for the group’s PAC and also have eyes on bringing on a full-time executive director.
The group has built out city chapters in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Charlotte, Oklahoma City and Dallas and has a presence at five universities, including Fordham, Washington and Lee, and Emory. And, this year they have plans to launch in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston. Their goals are as big as their ambition. Organizers plan to roll out a page on their website for young Republicans interested in running for office. If potential candidates fit the Concord 51 mold, organizers say they want to help train, support and cultivate them to run for public office.
They have about 300 dues-paying members and reach a couple thousand through newsletters, Facebook Twitter and attendees of their events. Concord 51 has a five-tier membership system — the lowest level asks just $16 per year. Top-tier membership, dubbed the “Elite 51” requires a $1,500 annual pledge and includes benefits like access to exclusive events and tickets to the annual holiday event. It’s unclear if the group’s organizers will be able to meet their fundraising goals, but they have already attracted support of some party elders and are also looking for funding through measures other than individual donations from young donors.
Concord 51’s draw was on display at a recent fundraiser at the New York Racquet Club headlined by former Gov. Jon Huntsman. The event, which drew more than 70 people at $175 a ticket, included a cocktail hour and dinner at which Huntsman took questions on China, gay marriage and other issues.
This is not your father’s College Republicans, always in lockstep with the party platform. These Republicans make no bones about being frustrated with GOP candidates’ propensity of focusing on social issues, which they believe is a major liability to many voters in their generation who don’t see gay marriage, abortion and other issues as central to their core beliefs.
The group has targeted their policy positions on fiscal responsibility, energy advancement and a strong defense. And welcomes conservatives who may have varying beliefs on social issues.
It’s a bold move that’s been largely welcomed by party elders who have struggled to engage the youth vote.
“I think the Republican Party looks at us as an incredible asset for the broader, longer-term political movement,” Swift said.
Dan Conston of the Congressional Leadership Fund said the party welcomes groups like Concord 51.
“Republicans are well-suited to compete and win on the congressional battlefield but if we’re going to win a national election again we need to shift our tone, tactics and targeting to reach younger and more diverse voters. We’ve become the decidedly uncool party for younger voters and we saw its impact,” Conston said. “It’s a good thing to have other like minded groups committed to broadening our base and focusing on the key few issues that affect Americans most.”
To that end, they’ve drawn high-profile lawmakers to roundtables and dinners, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. They’ve also done events for Republicans like former New York Rep. Nan Hayworth, who lost her reelection bid.
The makeup of the group — which was started by a group of young white men, many in finance, public affairs and startups — is also emblematic of the party’s demographic problems. Swift said he is focused on increasing ethnic diversity and adding female members. A. Beaumont Allen, who is in public affairs, noted that can already be seen in the increase in women on Concord 51’s 35-member board, a third of whose members are now female.
But translating membership into action at the ballot box and engaging at the federal level aren’t necessarily a given. Republicans have tried different efforts in the past — from College Republicans to the more recent founding of MavPAC, co-chaired by George P. Bush — to energize the youth vote without much success.
In the 2012 cycle, Concord 51 raised about $116,000 but gave just $10,900 to federal candidates. They supported Mitt Romney’s presidential bid and six congressional candidates, including Illinois Rep. Robert Dold, Hayworth,former Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, and GOP candidates Robert Turner and Heather Wilson. Most of the rest — $97,576 — went to administrative costs, legal fees, office space and an intern program. Allen said that this cycle the group expects more of the money to go toward candidates, since much of its costs were one-time fees and the administrative burdens will be more on the 501(c)4.