The Young Democrats of Utah announced a new executive director Wednesday, as well as a new plan to target voters in key Utah legislative districts.

Justin Daniels, a University of Utah graduate and former campaign organizer for 2008 U.S. presidential candidate Chris Dodd and 2006 U.S. Senate candidate Pete Ashdown, will become the first full-time paid executive director for the group. YDU President Matt Lyon said the level of activity and involvement among young Democrats in Utah justifies the new position.

"We haven't been large enough (in the past) to support a full-time staffer," Lyon said. "We finally reached the point were we needed someone this year."

Crystal Young-Otterstrom, communication director for YDU, said the 2008 presidential race has instigated an "explosive" surge in voter interest across the country and in Utah. She said many of the newly interested young voters in Utah feel disenfranchised by the policies adopted over the last eight years.

"The current administration has just completely let down youth voters," Young-Otterstrom said. "People are getting involved because they feel we need to start caring again about issues like poverty, peace and the economy."

Under Daniels' new leadership, the YDU is beginning a campaign to invigorate the 18- to 34-year-old voters in legislative districts with close contests and to back candidates they feel best represent the party. Young-Otterstrom said the specific districts will be determined after the state convention, but a couple of races will definitely get their focus.

"We will definitely be involved with the districts in which Curtis and Buttars are seeking re-election," Young-Otterstrom said.

House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, who represents House District 49 and was elected by only a 20-vote margin in 2006, is facing the man whom he narrowly defeated, Jay Seegmiller. Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, is running in Senate District 10 and created controversy this session with comments made on the Senate floor. He will face multiple challengers, both in his own party and from other parties.

Lyon said the YDU will likely choose about six districts on which to focus their efforts with a resultant target group of about 30,000-40,000 voters in the 18-34 bracket. Statistics provided by the group show turnout rates in this category lag behind turnout of all voters by as much as half in some districts. Lyon said addressing this disparity could change the face of some contests.

"We hope to raise voter turnout by 5 to 8 percent in these key legislative districts," Lyon said. "In a state where young people make up as much as 40 percent of a voting district and are voting at 50 percent the rate of other voters, a 5 percent increase will make a significant difference in who is elected."

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