First-time voters concerned about student debt, getting jobs after graduation

Watch video of the first-time voters: Nathaniel Peoples: Undecided | Paige Jennings: President Obama | Joseph Ramirez: Mitt Romney | David Rader: Mitt Romney

Gone is the cool factor that came with Barack Obama's "hope and change" campaign in 2008, which sent young voters to the polls in huge numbers.

Four years later, with the not-so-sexy topics of the economy and healthcare looming as key issues, political experts are predicting a significant drop in the youth vote.

But many young voters, namely college students, in North Texas still see their vote as important and will take a break from studying to watch tonight's debate between President Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney.

"I want to figure out who is going to do more for the people," said Norrton Rentie, a 22-year-old student at Tarrant County College's Trinity River Campus.

Oct. 9 is the deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 6 election, and volunteers have been staking out tables at area college campuses with voter registration cards, greeting students with a blunt question: "Do you want to vote?"

Carmel Perez Snyder, associate state director for Outreach AARP Texas, which helps register voters, said youths need to take part in the process because it affects their future. While issues such as Medicare and Social Security may not appear to hit close to home at age 18, these issues will eventually be inherited by this new generation of voters.

"The economy impacts everyone from the young voter to the AARP members," Snyder said. "It's critical to every American."

Here's what some of the young voters are saying:

Paige Jennings

Jennings, a 20-year-old junior at Texas Wesleyan University, says she'll vote for Obama.

She is a self-described die-hard Democrat from a family of conservatives. Student debt sits among her top concerns.

Jennings, who is majoring in mass communications/advertising/public relations, said she followed last summer's fight between Democrats and Republicans about student loan interest rates.

She worries about her future.

"I have student loans," she said. "I don't know if I'm going to be able to pay off my loans six months after I graduate."

Jennings supports same-sex marriage explaining that this is "a separate-but-equal issue" and is also on board with Obamacare.

"Everyone should have the opportunity to have healthcare," Jennings said.

She can't wait to vote.

"I feel so important voting, even though I am just one voter," Jennings said.

Joseph Ramirez

Ramirez, 18, is a freshman at Texas Wesleyan who is studying finance. He said he comes from a "pro-business" family and plans to vote for Romney.

"We believe in the free enterprise system," he said.

Ramirez said he believes in standing close to government, but is wary of too much government interference because it can become overbearing.

He likes Romney's views on a smaller government and stimulating the economy.

Ramirez said "the finances of college and finding a stable job" are among top issues for today's young voters.

Young people want to be able to earn a strong income when they graduate from college, he said.

Ramirez, who may vote early, said he believes his voice matters.

"I think every vote counts - even mine," Ramirez said.

Nathaniel Peoples

Peoples, a 19-year-old Tarrant County College student majoring in computer science/engineering, recently registered to vote.

But he is undecided on for whom he is going to vote and plans to study the candidates' platforms.

"Who would be the strongest candidate to reach the unreachable?" he said. "To pick up those who have fallen and carry those who have been left behind?"

Peoples, whose family has strong Republican ties, said many of his college friends question whether their vote really matters. He said the biggest issue he sees among people his age is a general fear of being ignored.

"People are afraid to step up, step out and be heard," he said.

Another big problem is borrowing money to pay for college.

"A lot of students are in serious debt," Peoples said. "A lot of students are drowning in their own debt."

David Rader

Rader, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Texas at Arlington, is in Romney's political camp.

"I'm a Republican, so naturally I vote for the Republican," said Rader, who is studying architecture.

Rader said he wants to give Romney a chance to try his economic ideas and a chance to grow more jobs -- in the United States.

Rader said the economy ties into the top concerns of young voters.

The biggest issue for young voters?

"The prospect of having a job once you graduate," Rader said.

Many college students are worried about being tied to high debt the rest of their lives, Rader said.

Rader said Romney could usher an end to backroom deals and overtaxing.

"I do think my vote matters -- especially in a close race like this one," Rader said.

Shannon Moriak

Moriak, a 21-year-old University of North Texas senior, said she is a conservative because of her views on government spending, economics and foreign affairs. Moriak, who is majoring in music education, said she is against Obama's healthcare reform.

Moriak will cast her first vote ever for Romney.

"I like that he has such strong family values," she said.

While Moriak, disagrees with Democrats on fiscal issues, she has strong views on protecting the rights of gay people.

"I believe in gay rights," she said, adding: "This day and age, it's different from when my parents were conservative."

Moriak said her vote counts.

"I do think my vote matters because we, as students, are affected by the economy the most because we will be paying off the national debt for generations to come," she said. "We have the right to choose a president who can help us get out of debt or possibly make it worse."

Mia Witt

Witt is a 19-year-old Democrat studying special education at the University of North Texas.

She favors permanent immigration reform for children of undocumented immigrants who have been raised in the United States (commonly known as the Dream Act). She also believes in marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Witt said she will vote for Obama.

"There are some issues I can't compromise on," Witt said. "Some of my best friends should be able to marry who they love."

Like many college students, Witt worries about mounting student debt and Pell Grant funding. She questions Romney's vice presidential choice, saying that U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan is an advocate of slashing higher education programs such as the Pell Grant. She also monitored recent controversy surrounding interest rates on student loans.

In recent days, Witt worked to register fellow UNT students to vote: "I think every vote matters. I don't care who they vote for."

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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