RNC targets youth vote as U of Alabama set to host next GOP debate

On Nov. 9, the RNC announced that the GOP debate set for Dec. 6 will be held at the University of Alabama.

Campus Reform spoke with RNC Youth Advisory Council Co-Chair Brilyn Hollyhand to learn more about the party's efforts to improve among younger voters.

After years of struggling to win over the youth vote from Democrats, the Republican National Committee (RNC) is making a concerted effort in its uphill battle to reach Gen Z voters for the 2024 presidential election. 

On Nov. 9, the RNC announced that the GOP debate set for Dec. 6 will be held right in the heart of college student life at the University of Alabama. The event will be hosted in partnership with News Nation, The Megyn Kelly Show, The Washington Free Beacon, and Rumble.

In an interview with Campus Reform, Brilyn Hollyhand, the co-chair of the newly formed RNC Youth Advisory Council, said that after many conversations about bringing a debate to a college campus with RNC leadership, Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was the one who called him and put forth the idea of hosting the event in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

“And I said, you know, it would be even better if we could actually host a debate on a college campus,” said Hollyhand. “And again, she was very receptive to the idea … It was about a week or two later and I got a phone call from her, and she said ‘What about Alabama?’ and I said, ‘We can make that work.’”

[RELATED: WATCH: Gen Z concerned about ‘geriatric’ Biden economy]

Being a Tuscaloosa native and working alongside his co-chair, CJ Pearson, Hollyhand went on to discuss the group effort of Republicans across the entire state of Alabama playing a significant role in making the upcoming debate possible.

“I cannot take credit for all of this,” Hollyhand said. “The Alabama GOP Chairman, John Wall, put a huge effort into helping us coordinate this and you know, actually get the conversation started with the university. Obviously, my dear friend, Katie Britt, is one of the first phone calls I made when we started.”

When asked what the key is to obtaining the youth vote in upcoming elections, Hollyhand told Campus Reform that the younger voters he meets on the campaign haven’t historically been political, but are finally starting to pay attention and want to know more.

“We’ve given our generation a free front row seat to democracy,” he remarked. “That’s something that’s never been done in political history, and it’s obviously paying off.” 

University of Alabama student Kylan Tonizzo expressed her enthusiasm to Campus Reform about the debate coming to her campus. 

“I was extremely excited to hear the debate was being hosted in Tuscaloosa,” said Tonizzo. “Bringing politics to a college town incentivizes engagement from students, as well as positions the candidates closer to real life, working-class people in the red state of Alabama. I think the event will be electrifying in a town like Tuscaloosa and could be a critical move in engaging with young voters.”

[RELATED: WATCH: Gen Z is looking for passion and energy in a GOP candidate]

When asked about recent polls from the The New York Times showing that Donald Trump has been starting to pull youth voters from Joe Biden, Hollyhand said that when he has conversations with voters about policies under a Republican administration compared to policies under the Biden administration, he can see the “wheels turning in their heads” when they realize that they may not like the personality of someone like Trump, but they do like his policies.

An NBC News exit poll from 2020 showed that Biden secured 65% of voters aged 18-24. The Hill recently reported that some polls have Trump leading Biden by 2% in a hypothetical matchup among 18-29-year-olds. The last time the Republican Party definitively won the 18-29-year-old vote was 1988.

Alabama’s Assistant Director of Communications Alex House told Campus Reform that the school is “honored to serve as a neutral site for the debate, and that hosting the debate is not an endorsement of any candidate or political party.”

Follow Kieghan Nangle on X.