CHICAGO — Young Republicans gathering for their national convention today said membership is at an all-time high, but they still have an image problem: Many people think of them as "nerds."
"Whenever there's a joke about young Republicans, it's usually about nerds," said Jan Scott of suburban Mount Prospect, who is co-chairing the five-day biennial convention expected to draw 1,000 members through Sunday.
" 'Saturday Night Live' has not helped us. We're pretty normal, everyday American people, not a bunch of kooks," Scott said.
"For a long time the problem we had was not in what we believed in but how we presented it," said Bill Kerr of suburban Schaumburg, the convention's other co-chairman.
"Being conservative doesn't mean being an elitist country club member. It just means being middle class," Kerr said. "The typical Young Republican is in his mid to late 20s, professional, college-educated and hoping to fulfill the stereotyped image of the American dream."
Despite image problems, President Reagan's 1984 election victory helped bolster the credibility of the 52-year-old group, whose members are 18 to 40 years old.
"It surprised everyone . . . that Reagan's strongest voting group was in the 18-to-24 age group. We're now looking at changing the whole majority well into the next century," Scott said.
"We're not the party of fat cats any more, but the party of ideas and growth. . . . He's given us new hope," she added.
Membership, which has fluctuated since the organization was founded during the Depression, now stands at an all-time high of 500,000, up from 1980's 425,000.
Membership had remained relatively constant even during the 1960s. The most recent ebb--to about 350,000 members--came in 1973-74, when President Richard M. Nixon resigned in the wake of Watergate, Kerr said.