Now that the choice is between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney for president, it is important that one of the key demographic groups - voters under 35 - pay attention to the campaigns as they roll out over the next six months.
While Barack Obama won the youth vote by a large margin in 2008, one cannot assume his current double-digit lead among younger voters will remain or be sufficient to carry him to victory in November.
Young people have good reasons to be disappointed with President Obama. Candidate Obama was sincere in his pledge to change Washington, as we know it. What he did not anticipate was the goal of the Republican Party to do everything possible to make him a failed president.
And Obama could not have predicted the vitriol of an insurgent Tea Party movement coming out of the 2010 campaign making governing almost impossible unless he'd capitulated to the GOP's agenda of slashing government to the bone and preserving tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.
Given the challenges faced by the Obama administration - wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, an economy teetering on the brink of a Great Depression, an economy where capital was on strike, a tsunami in Japan and a Euro zone on the edge of a cliff - the reality and enormity of the problems we confronted went from chronic to acute. But Obama, minus any help from the GOP, saved the nation from falling off the cliff, scaled back the two wars and got health reform passed.
Accomplishing one of these things in the past would have been considered a successful body of work by a president in his first term. But in today's 24/7 media clock, the public is impatient. Our checks and balances system makes change almost impossible. But despite the obstacle course, the Obama administration has had a positive record of accomplishments. Is it perfect? No. Perfection is an illusion.
So young voters, who have their own challenges - the burden of college debt and high rates of joblessness - are primed to be impatient. This is Mitt Romney's opening. But Romney offers voters the same tired, old and shop-worn rhetoric of the GOP of the Bush II years: no new taxes and a less activist federal government. If that's the formula for success then why did the economy go into the dumpster under George W. Bush and the Republicans from 2000-2008?
If you want to relive the 'good years' of Bush II, go ahead and vote Republican up and down the ballot. But if you believe that we are slowly and surely turning things around and that our future depends on investing in middle class Americans, not in millionaires and billionaires, then you not only need to vote for Barack Obama, you also need to vote Democratic in the down-ballot races for Congress, the Senate, statewide offices and your legislature.
Don't allow your cynicism and fears to cause you to waste your vote or be a non-voter. That simply increases the chances for the GOP to achieve its goal of making Obama a one-term president. We can't afford another four more years of Bush-lite politics under Mitt Romney.
In 1968, some angry young people refused to vote for Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee that year, out of anger over the war in Vietnam. I was one of those angry young voters.
The youth vote that year went to Richard Nixon. Don't let your disappointment, personal pain or anger at the system empower those who get up every day thinking how they can contort the political system in the United States for the benefit of the 1 percent and corporate America. As FDR said in the heart of the Great Depression: the 'only thing we have to fear is fear itself.'
Don't be governed by your fears, lead with your hearts and hope. You're only young once!
Russ Dondero is Professor Emeritus, Department of Politics and Government, Pacific University. Read his blogs at russdondero.squarespace.com.