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June 6, 2018 GMT

AUSTIN — The bright, young faces who represent the next generation of the Republican Party commiserated about their older colleagues in Washington and what it takes to win over the millennial voters needed to ensure future victories.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, a 34-year-old former Marine from Wisconsin, said the music he plays while working out in the House gym rankles some older lawmakers. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York recalls how she was issued a pager to keep up with House voting schedules.

For Texas Rep. Will Hurd, at 40 the oldest on the stage, the moment of truth came during the hearings on Facebook’s fake news and privacy problems, where senior lawmakers were not checking their phones. “They don’t use electronics,” he said.

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In the audience at the Maverick PAC annual conference in Austin were the GOP ground troops whose mission is to fan out across the nation to motivate millennial conservatives to not only join the Republican Party but to contribute to campaigns and get out the vote. Sen. Ted Cruz, himself an upstart, was a co-founder of the conservative Republican fundraising organization in 2004, and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush was an early leader who helped build the group.

Starting with 20 like-minded conservative Republicans, the group now numbers more than 250 — at a time when Republican officeholders and candidates are under fire in other states, many of them in Congress.

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“Living on the East Coast, you sort of hear this narrative that all millennials are liberal, that none of them are conservative. There’s nothing that’s farther from the truth,” said Fritz Brogan, 33, a businessman and political adviser who serves as national co-chair of Maverick PAC. He insists that many millennials “don’t know they’re conservative,” even though they want less government and share many other conservative values.

The race to win over millennial voters is accelerating as they grow older and more likely to vote. This year millennials will surpass baby boomers as the largest generation of Americans eligible to vote, ending four decades of boomer dominance. The mostly white boomers have voted reliably in recent years for Republicans, while nationally, millennials have tended to vote for Democrats.

Political experts predict that the next several elections could hinge on how fast millennials convert their potential influence into election clout. Both Democrats and Republican officials say they expect millennial turnout to increase as their interest in politics grows and millennials become more likely to vote as they age. So far in Texas, the increase has been spotty.

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In the March 6 primary, less than 13 percent of registered Democrats ages 31-40 cast early votes, compared with 5.8 percent of Republicans in the same age group. The average age of early-voting Democrats was near 56, while the average age of early-voting Republicans was nearly 63.

Maverick PAC raised $5 million for Republican candidates from 2016-18, and as it continues to run up its cash tally this year, it plans to continue supporting the GOP’s next generation of politicians.

Morgan Ortagus, 35, the group’s other co-chair, said it’s only natural for millennials to become more conservative as they age.

“There’s some really incredibly serious, loud voices out there that are young, that are making waves, that are going on college campuses, that are challenging the ideological status quo,” Ortagus said. “The minute millennials make money, get a wife, get a husband; they start coming back to us.”

In Texas, where most top officeholders are boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) and Generation Xers (born 1965-1984), younger faces including millennials (1985-2004) have begun ascending into positions of power in both parties.

“The people who are now being elected to the Texas Legislature could eventually be the next governor,” said 41-year-old Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist who follows political voting trends in Texas. “In the 1980s and 1990s, the current Republican party in Texas was built by a lot of WD40s, white Democrats over 40 who were conservative at a time when the Democratic party was turning to the left. Now, millennials have the opportunity to change the dynamic of politics — for both parties. You can expect to see younger faces.”

The U.S. Senate race this fall features two Gen Xers: Republican incumbent Cruz, 47, and Democrat Beto O’Rourke, 45, a Texas congressman. The governor’s race, not so much: Incumbent Republican Greg Abbott is 60; his Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, is 70.

Both candidates are touting increased turnout in the November general election — Valdez from Latino voters who historically turn out in Texas in low numbers, and Abbott, a boomer, who addressed the Maverick PAC conference as a senior conservative statesman.

“This is the next generation of Republican leaders,” he told the young audience.

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As with every changing of the guard, though, there are tensions — older folks complaining about young people, the youthful complaining about their elder’s fusty ways.

“Younger members are less scripted. We feel less constrained on the issues we work on,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., 38, who joined Congress in 2015.

Brett Boettcher, a 31-year-old software developer from Dallas, laughed as he listened to the comparisons of millennials to their older counterparts.

“Millennials are more agile in making decisions; they communicate much differently and much faster than the older generation. They have a different approach,” he said. “And this is how we will change politics.”

mike.ward@chron.comtwitter.com/ChronicleMike