Teton County’s GOP is bringing a controversial figure to Jackson Hole to help engage local youth. The move comes after the party was unable to get many conservatives elected to local offices last November.
Charlie Kirk will be the keynote speaker at the party’s annual fundraising event, the Patriots Dinner, this Friday.
The 29-year-old talk radio host leads the national conservative youth group, Turning Point USA, and is known for his ties with former President Donald Trump and frequent appearances on Fox News.
Turning Point also runs a “Professor Watchlist.” According to the website, the project’s goal is to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”
Teton GOP chair Mary Martin described Kirk as an advocate for free speech and said she hopes he’ll help the party better engage local youth.
“We recognize that we have a lot of young voters in Teton County,” Martin said. “There’s a need for us to become more aware of how to have meaningful conversations.”
Conservatives in office
Reaching young people is just part of the Teton GOP’s strategy for what the party referred to on the Patriots Dinner event page as an “unprecedented 2024 election.” It’s preparing to use “out-of-the-box strategies and fresh tactics” to elect conservatives.
The goal of the dinner is to raise $150,000 to fund these future strategies.
During the 2022 election season, the Teton GOP invested heavily in local candidates. The party gave each local conservative candidate $15,000 and left “golden tickets” at residents’ doorsteps. These packets included information about local Republican candidates, and some included free gift cards and gas cards.
Ultimately, local voters elected one Republican, Rep. Andrew Byron (R-Hoback), who told KHOL he’s excited for the Friday event.
In the wake of the November election, Martin said the party realized it needs to be more “explorative” with its messaging.
“The young people are the hope for our community’s future,” Martin said. “They’re the hope for my future.”
Martin said she is unsure what exactly their strategies moving forward will be but is excited to get advice from Kirk, who speaks at high schools and colleges nationwide.
Connections to Jackson
According to Martin, Kirk has ties to Jackson and visits frequently.
“He has a heart for Teton County and Wyoming,” she said.
Kirk launched Turning Point in part thanks to seed money from late Jackson conservative businessman and former gubernatorial candidate Foster Friess.
Tomorrow is election day in Wyoming
My dear friend @FosterFriess is running for governor and in a super close race to win the primary
He wrote the first $10,000 check to get @TPUSA started and as they say “the rest is history”
Foster is a patriot and deserves your vote WY! pic.twitter.com/XMtTr3B54m
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) August 21, 2018
Kirk’s group was also involved in local elections in 2020, placing ads endorsing conservative candidates and attacking progressive ones.
The leader of the local Democrat party, Maggie Hunt, said she fears big money coming into local politics.
Rather than focusing on youth, Hunt said the Teton Dems want to appeal to all generations, with some focus on residents from thirty- to fifty-years-old, since she said issues in the state most directly affect that age group.
“We just feel like the role of the political party, certainly in local elections … is to foster community, foster inclusiveness,” Hunt said.
Hunt said she doesn’t think local young people will welcome Kirk with open arms.
“I don’t believe that the youth in our community are open to that kind of messaging,” she said.
Martin, from the Teton GOP, said she found several local young people to attend Friday’s event, offering them free tickets.
For the general public, tickets for the sold-out event at Teton Village’s Four Seasons went for $500 a piece.