While this year's presidential election shows signs of drawing in more young voters than any since 1992, the candidates who pulled some of them into the Republican race are long gone — and it's unclear whether they've taken their young supporters with them.
Once former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Texas Rep. Ron Paul were both out of the race, their many young supporters were faced with a choice: Should they switch to the party's pick, find another candidate, cast a write-in vote or sit the election out?
Huckabee and Paul appealed to young voters for qualities not associated with presumed nominee John McCain — Huckabee for his conservative Christianity and Paul for his anti-war libertarianism.
Most members of Huck's Army, a Web site for Huckabee supporters, plan to follow his advice to back McCain, although a number have "some reservations," said David Schmidt, 23, executive director of the site.
Paul has not endorsed another candidate and says his supporters "should do whatever they want." But at a party the night before a recent rally in Washington, he told one Paulite, "The contest is to get as many votes as we can to not support the two major candidates."
Electing a third-party candidate "would be the best thing for the country," Paul said. "Whether (Obama) wins or McCain wins, policies won't change."
Barack Obama's Web site has stood out as the most popular of any candidate almost every month for the past year, according to Internet monitoring site Compete.com. In February, his site attracted more than 3 million unique visitors.
But from October through last December, Paul's site beat even Obama's. Web users flocked to both Huckabee and Paul, who in January attracted more than 770,000 unique visitors each, according to Compete.com.
For some, that online political involvement translated to participation in political rallies and real-life campaigning.
"The day before I left home for Christmas, I started walking my precinct," said Iowa State University graduate student Brinn Shjegstad, 25, a Huckabee supporter.
"It was icy. I fell down three times. I had bruises all over my legs, but I kept going because I believe in his message," she said. "I believe in what he has to offer America. As a young person, I wasn't just going to sit back and watch it all go by."
An Internet example
After McCain collected enough delegates to clinch the nomination in March, Huckabee's site traffic dropped to 27,300 unique visitors and Paul's to 147,629 in April.
And where those visitors went may be an indication of whether they will remain interested enough to vote in November.
The majority of visitors to Huckabee's site stopped checking political sites, according to data from Compete.com.
Just 10 percent of visitors who had checked Huckabee's site at least three time between Jan. 1 and March 5 took a look at McCain's site in June. Seven percent went to Obama. That month only 15 percent checked one of 10 top conservative blogs and 10 percent checked one of 10 top liberal blogs.
A greater but still small percentage of those interested in Paul remained involved in political Web sites, according to Compete.com. In June, 18 percent of visitors to Paul's site before McCain's nomination read at least one major conservative blog and 22 percent read at least one major liberal blog. Six percent went to McCain and 8 percent to Obama.
Obama's youth draw
Another indication of whether young Republicans are as engaged in the election now many be seen in measures of interest among voters between 18 and 34 years old reflected in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal Hart-Newhouse Poll in mid-July. A majority of young Obama supporters, 53 percent, rated their enthusiasm for the campaign at the highest level, 10, while only 48 percent of young McCain supporters said they were as excited.
Among young voters with the most enthusiasm about the election, 59 support Obama and 30 percent support McCain.
Shjegstad said she does not feel the same desire to rally support for McCain.
"McCain will get my vote," she said. "But if he puts Huckabee on the ticket, he gets my money and he gets my physical labor."
Betty Wolf, 28, of Cleveland, said she decided to contribute to Paul because of unfair media coverage and the disrespect other candidates showed him during debates.
"If you're willing to laugh at a candidate onstage, that's a really deep personal affront," she said. "That's what really made me say, 'I'm going to open up my wallet and I'm going to give to this guy, because no one laughs at money.'"
Although Wolf is a registered Republican, she said she probably will not vote for McCain and is "definitely giving the Libertarian Party a look."