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2 UM students run for House
Steven Dogiakos, 23, is one of 22 candidates younger than 30 running for the Montana Legislature.

MISSOULA - Steven Dogiakos hopes his ideas speak louder than his looks.

This coming from a 23-year-old with a spiky, multicolored Mohawk.

Dogiakos is one of 22 candidates statewide under the age of 30 running for the Montana Legislature.

A dozen are Republicans. The rest are Democrats. A half-dozen are incumbents, a half-dozen attend a college or university, and two of them - Dogiakos and 21-year-old Dan Stusek - attend the University of Montana.

Both are members of the College Republicans. Both are fiscally conservative. Both see a benefit to foregoing nights playing beer pong and video games in favor of knocking on doors, talking to constituents and electing Republicans.

After that, their similarities end.

Dogiakos spends much of his time at the old movie theater on Brooks Street, now transformed into the Missoula County Republican headquarters. There, he calls voters and sends out mailers.

Dogiakos is running for an open seat in House District 93 against Democratic challenger Dick Barrett, a retired UM economics professor.

Dogiakos, who grew up in the flatlands of Illinois, was drawn to Missoula a year ago to attend the university's school of business. He doesn't look like a Republican and probably won't vote like one when it comes to social issues. He thinks government should stay out of people's bedrooms and personal lives.

The self-proclaimed "computer geek" said he is running for the Legislature because his generation is going to have to live with the decisions made today, and he's not too keen on some of them. He questions how leaders who didn't grow up with computers, or in some cases television, can shape policy in a rapidly changing technology era.

"They've had their chance, they've tried, and clearly it's not working so well," he said.

Dogiakos understands the Internet, keeps up to speed on the latest software and has posts on Blogspot, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, not to mention a flashy campaign Web site with a line at the top that reads, "Variety is the Spice of Life!"

He applauds the way Barack Obama's campaign has used the Internet to raise money and register young people to vote.

"That interconnection of everything (on the Internet) is going to be the next generation of information absorption," he said.

College affordability is a top priority for Dogiakos, who couldn't afford tuition this fall and instead got a job as a bouncer at the Top Hat, a downtown bar, to earn money to re-enroll in the spring. By and large, he opposes big government and wasteful spending. But when it comes to higher education, Dogiakos wants to find ways to send motivated and qualified young adults to school.

Stusek, on the other hand, has been running every which way trying to balance the campaign, his extracurricular activities and the load of classes necessary for him to graduate this spring with a degree in political science. The Billings native is running in House District 92 against Democratic incumbent Robin Hamilton.

"My campaign war chest is limited," said the 21-year-old, who has found little time to raise money or knock on doors in a district that covers 771 square miles. There's no money for yard signs, he said. Hitting up college buddies for campaign donations is out of the question. They are eating Top Ramen, too.

Stusek is a conservative Christian who believes in family values, individual freedoms and less government, prioritized in that order. He plans to go to law school and become an attorney like his father.

When asked to counter what's likely to be the biggest criticism of his candidacy, his inexperience, Stusek says, "Let's talk about my experience first." He then lists political internships both locally and in Washington, D.C., with Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., and the state Republican Party.

"It comes down more to my positions (on issues) than age and experience," he said.

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For Republicans, winning seats in Missoula has proved challenging in the past. State Rep. Bill Nooney is Missoula's only Republican representative in the Montana Legislature, and Democrats are confident they'll retain all the seats they currently occupy.

"These are heavily Democrat districts, but these kids want to give the voters a choice," said Erik Iverson, state Republican Party chairman. "They deserve a pat on the back. They are committed to Republican principles and are willing to put their name on the line to do it."

Among the young Republican candidates is Jed Cox, a 23-year-old who graduated from UM last spring. He's running against incumbent Demo-cratic Rep. Betsy Hands, 38, in House District 99 of Missoula.

In recent years, more young Democrats have been elected to office than young Republicans.

The new young faces with an R behind their names in this election are examples of the party's efforts to "modernize," said Iverson, 34, who was elected head of the party a year ago. At that time, the state GOP's computer system hadn't been upgraded since 1999. Now the party is pushing blogs and posting videos on YouTube, he said.

"We've tried to modernize the party to be friendlier to younger voters and use the sources of technology that they respond to," he said.

Scott Martin, former president of the UM College Democrats, has several thoughts as to why there are more young Republican candidates than Democratic ones.

One theory is that these things are cyclical. Quite a few young Democrats already serve in state government, he said. Or it could have to do with the energy generated by Barack Obama's presidential campaign, he said. It's possible that young people would rather rally behind Obama this year and work to get him elected than run their own campaigns.

Or it could be that the Democratic Party is taking fewer risks this year on young candidates, Martin said. The split in the state Senate and House is close. Both parties are fighting to win majorities, and after the tense power struggle of last session, the stakes are high, he said.

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