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Advice: Ryan should speak for the millennials

updated 5:30 PM EDT, Thu October 11, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Margaret Hoover: Paul Ryan has an opportunity to make a generational pitch in debate
  • She says he can speak to why limiting America's debt is an issue of fairness, practicality
  • John Avlon: Joe Biden has to come on strong to restore Obama campaign momentum
  • He says Biden should forcefully cross-examine the Romney-Ryan plan for America

Husband-and-wife CNN contributors John Avlon and Margaret Hoover offer some advice for the participants in Thursday's vice presidential debate, which will air live on CNN and CNN.com at 9 p.m. ET.

(CNN) -- Margaret Hoover's advice:

I've got some unsolicited advice for Rep. Paul Ryan: Take the opportunity to make a generational pitch. The millennial generation -- which turned out 2-to-1 for Obama in 2008 -- is ripe for a new message of hope and opportunity.

Margaret Hoover
Margaret Hoover

The millennials are the largest generation in American history. There are 27 million more millennials than members of Generation X, and 17 million more of them than baby boomers. There will be 65 million millennials eligible to vote in November, and if they turn out at the same rate that they voted in 2008 (just over 50%) they could amount to almost one quarter of the electorate.

See the VP debate
CNN will offer unrestricted access to Thursday's vice presidential debate coverage starting at 7 p.m. ET on CNN TV, CNN.com and via CNN's apps for iPhone, iPad and Android. Web users can become video editors with a new clip-and-share feature that allows them to share favorite debate moments on Facebook and Twitter.

But enthusiasm has waned for the generation that voted for hope and change. The Pew Research Center reports "slippage" among voters younger than 30 -- 14% less of them are "highly engaged in the 2012 election," and 9% fewer say they "definitely plan to vote."

In his acceptance speech, Ryan hinted at the lack of economic opportunity the millennials now face: "College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life."

It was a memorable image that resonated because the celebrity of Barack Obama has faded against a record of disappointing results.

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Most of all, this generation is a rich target for the Romney-Ryan ticket to make the case for generational fiscal responsibility. Millennials understand that the spending policies of the last four decades amount to "generational theft," that debt and deficits are unsustainable.

They understand that at the current rate, the promises that have been made about Social Security and Medicare won't be available to them when they are ready to retire -- and what's worse, they will be expected to pay for the baby boomers' party in the form of higher taxes, a more sluggish economy, or both.

Opinion: Why Ryan has edge in VP debate

That's why Paul Ryan should look at the camera and make the case that fresh thinking can save the next generation from missing out on the economic prosperity they expect. We don't have to accept diminished economic prosperity for the next several decades.

That means reforming archaic government programs like Social Security and Medicare to keep them solvent for society's most vulnerable while looking out for the millennial generation's long-term economic interests.

To date, the GOP hasn't made an aggressive play for the millennials, assuming that it's safer to bank on the idea that a lack of enthusiasm will keep them home on Election Day. But those who study generational voting trends suggest dire consequences for the GOP if it doesn't even try to connect with them.

CNN Exclusive: Ryan's debate prep as meticulous as he is

Voter identification tends to solidify after a new generation votes consecutively for the same party in three presidential elections. After they voted for John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008, the GOP has this election to make its case to the millennials before they comfortably self identify as Democrat or independent for the rest of their lives.

7 questions you would ask at the VP debate

Ryan, a member of Generation X, can connect to the millennial ethos. Like the millennials, he doesn't think government is inherently evil, and he believes in its power to make society better. By reforming a few antiquated entitlement programs, he stresses the goal of saving them for the most needy in society, while empowering individuals to save for their futures.

He connects with their ethos to make government work by demonstrating bipartisanship -- by working with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden on Medicare reform and Democratic former OMB Director Alice Rivlin on health care. And simply the sight of Ryan onstage alongside Vice President Joe Biden will offer a clear contrast between the young and the old.

So my unsolicited advice for Paul Ryan in this debate is to speak to millennials directly and inspirationally -- as Obama did in 2008 -- and the GOP could begin to make a difference with the largest generation in history.

Margaret Hoover is the author of "American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party."

John Avlon's advice

John Avlon
John Avlon

After President Obama's listless first debate performance, the pressure is on Vice President Joe Biden in the campaign's only VP debate Thursday in Kentucky.

Biden has got to come on strong without going off the rails and committing a gaffe that dominates the next day's headlines. He's got to conduct a friendly but forceful cross examination of the Romney-Ryan plans. It's a difficult line to walk for an experienced politico who has earned a reputation for sometimes shooting carelessly from the lip.

Ryan's challenge is to remain friendly and relatable while also showing enough policy chops and gravitas to convince viewers that he is capable of actually serving as president. Ryan's intelligence can sometimes bristle and appear peevish under intense questioning. Likewise, Biden is likeable, and punching too hard against him could backfire badly.

Romney may have been trying to lower expectations when he told Wolf Blitzer that Ryan may not have debated since high school (in fact, Ryan debated in congressional races), but Romney's comments highlighted Ryan's youth -- and the fact that he's never even run in a statewide race in Wisconsin.

We haven't seen a member of the House of Representatives elected vice president since Speaker of the House John Nance Garner in 1932 (Gerald Ford wasn't elected, but appointed to the office before he succeeded Nixon).

Martin: Biden must deliver for Team Obama

Ryan is an unabashed policy wonk, and as a result he is going to have to be ready to answer basic questions about how the Romney plans add up when 20% tax cuts are combined with increased defense spending, consistent with the goal of deficit reduction. He'll have to defend his own opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest in light of Romney's most recent flip-flop on the issue. He's also going to have to explain his dishonorable ditching of the Bowles-Simpson committee plan.

But overall, Biden's got the heavier lift. He's going to have to bring energy back to the Democrats' argument without overshooting the mark.

Biden is best when talking to a union hall in Ohio or Pennsylvania, but this debate will be watched by undecided swing voters across the nation. That's the audience Biden has to reach and resonate with in an effort to shift momentum away from Team Mitt and bring passion, clarity and contrast back to the Obama campaign.

John Avlon is a senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront."

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

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