WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- GOP presidential candidates made their last pitch to young Iowans Tuesday, with a few attempts to sound hip and boost their appeal to younger voters.
"You've got to read those blogs and you have to read the news wires," former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) told students during an assembly at Valley High School in West Des Moines. "You've got to have an understanding of what's going on in this country."
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who is seen as the most appealing to young voters, opened his speech with a reference to his recent endorsement by a former American Idol winner. He said young people like his campaign because of his support for the Constitution.
"I'm wondering, does anyone here know the name Kelly Clarkson?" Paul said to cheers from the students. "Because recently she endorsed me, a couple weeks ago, and something happened. Because I have to admit, I didn't know a whole lot about her. But I do know our supporters were so enthusiastic they went out and bumped up her sales on her records by 600 percent."
While Paul stuck mostly to his usual stump speech at the event, focusing on the importance of limited government and ending wars, Santorum took a somewhat different approach than the one he uses when he speaks to older crowds. He took a more respectful tone in discussing his opposition to President Barack Obama, whom he usually bashes openly.
"You may like them, they may be nice people," Santorum said, alluding to Obama, but adding that students should consider whether the Democrats' plans could actually work.
Some of the students are not attending the caucuses by choice: At least one of the school's government teachers gave an assignment to vote on Tuesday night, though the students can choose either the Republican or Democratic caucuses. There is an alternate assignment for students that cannot participate.
Paul was right that young voters often prefer him -- he received the most enthusiastic applause and many students said they will vote for him at the caucus Tuesday evening. Sarah Havens, an 18-year-old senior in high school, said she identifies more as a Democrat but thinks she will caucus for Paul. (She is not in the government class with the caucusing assignment.)
"I think he has some really good points and I think he appeals to the youth the most," Havens said after the event. "I think that's really important," she added, saying later that Paul has "really taken" the support of youth from Obama.
"A couple of years ago, it seemed like everyone was a Democrat," Havens said.
A few students said they are opposed to Santorum in part because of his stance on gay rights. He opposes gay marriage, like most of the other Republican candidates, and said recently he would "invalidate" gay marriages that are legal now.
Ashley Rosa, an 18-year-old senior who is leaning toward Paul, said she opposes Santorum for that reason.
"I've heard from my friends that he doesn't like gay marriage, and I'm not okay with that," Rosa said. "I'm actually really shocked about that. ... I feel very strongly about that."