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In a measure of how aggressively the Bush campaign is courting young voters, the Republican Party rolled into New York on Thursday aboard a 56-foot 18-wheeler dubbed Reggie the Registration Rig.
The souped-up truck, equipped with a soundstage, X-Box games, and plasma screen TVs, could've driven straight out of MTV's new car makeover show, Pimp My Ride. It was parked next to the Army recruiting center, and in eyeshot of MTV's recording studios, so that Republican party Chairman Ed Gillespie could make a guest appearance on Total Request Live with MTV correspondent Sway.
Saying what millions of teens and 'tweens watching the show were probably thinking, Swaywho interviewed Gillespie on the truck's foldout stage before a crowd of about 50 screaming Bush volunteers and fansadmitted that the notion of the GOP honcho appearing on TRL was "kinda crazy."
Crazy, but definitely part of the RNC's efforts to sign up 3 million new voters through a stepped-up Web drive and grassroots draws like Reggie, which has been touring college campuses and NASCAR events. In the past month alone, the RNC claims they've brought in well over 1 million new voters.
TRL, with its built-in fan base of young people (who are already very comfortable with voting, even if it is just for videos), was the right venue at the right time, since a recent survey by Newsweek showed Bush's standing among 18- to 29-year olds had dropped to 46 percent, with 56 percent saying they would likely vote for John Kerry compared to only 41 percent saying they would likely vote for Bush. When Sway asked Gillespie if W. himself would commit to stopping by TRL, Gillespie said he'd "take it back as a suggestion."
Gillespie declined to tell The Voice whether he favored Usher or Clay Aiken, saying he didn't want to alienate any potential new Republicans. "I like the new Norah Jones CD, but I don't think that's gonna make the cut on TRL," he allowed.
When asked about his guest, Sway was diplomatic. "I think he was a nice guy, and I think it was smart of him to go on TRL," Sway said. "I think our audience can help anybody get into office. There's a big disconnect between the young audiences and the political process, so we want to encourage people who are young Republicans or Democrats or whatever their political party is to be aware and get involved."
"Our numbers show at least 20 million people between the ages of 18 and 30 will come out and vote in this election," Sway added, citing polls which show that young people are far more energized to vote this year. "If you want to be elected, you have to pay attention to 'em."
The GOP's crossover act in Times Square made for some odd dissonance. While the mostly white and older crowd chanted "Four more years!" and patriotic images of Bush swirled on the plasma screens, Reggie's juiced-up sound system blared a mix of tracks that included 50-Cent and marijuana-friendly rapper Sean Paul, as well as Britney Spears's racy single "Toxic."
"It's a mix of TRL music," said RNC spokesperson Jim Dyke, who conceded he had "no idea really" what songs were on it.
Likewise, most in the crowd of screaming teenagers outside MTV's studios were oblivious to Gillespie's efforts. "Is he that new actor guy?" asked Tiffany Bodine, a 16-year-old student in town with her Monroe, Michigan, 4-H club. Bodine was disappointed to learn that the RNC chair was to be TRL's only guest that day. "I'd rather see DMX," she said.
Not surprisingly, Reggie the Registration Rig drew a group protesters, including representatives of MusicforAmerica.org, the League of Pissed off Voters, and The National HipHop Political Convention, as well as a group of vocal middle school students who took up the chant "Bush is whack!" "They're totally out of touch with youth culture," complained Franz Hartl, the 26 year-old co-founder of MusicforAmerica.org. "They think X-Boxes will get the youth vote when no one has health insurance, we've had the first net loss of jobs since Herbert Hoover, and we're in a quagmire in Iraq: It's total hypocrisy. They make a big stink about Janet Jackson and MTV on the Superbowl show, and then they pump Britney Spears from their big rig?"