One of the first stories Peter Wallsten broke at the Wall Street Journal was Rahm Emanuel’s  “f%#king r%!*ards” crack, which earned him both a Sarah Palin Facebook post and one of the best Saturday Night Live sketches of all times (video above).

Today he picks up on the work Jon Walker has been doing on Prop 19, and the impact it is having on young voter turnout in California:

Surveys by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling suggest California voters under 30 years old are more likely to vote this year than their counterparts in other states. People in that age group make up 11% of California voters likely to turn out in November—compared with 8% of the likely electorate or less in Illinois, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Michigan, all of which have competitive statewide elections. In the last midterms, in 2006, voters under 30 were 6.5% of the California electorate, according to data compiled for the non-partisan Field Poll.

Tom Jensen, polling director for PPP, said the results suggest the marijuana initiative is driving voter interest among those under 30. He said the interest may be boosting Democratic candidates, particularly Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), who has built a lead over GOP challenger Carly Fiorina recently.

The trend was identified in recent days by Jon Walker, an analyst at the liberal blog Fire Dog Lake, which has been pushing for marijuana legalization. Mr. Walker wrote that “the evidence is strong” that Proposition 19, not California Democratic candidates, was mobilizing young voters.

Democratic pollster Andrew Myers found in a December 2009 survey in Colorado that 45% of Obama “surge voters”—people voting for the first time in 2008—said they would be more interested in turning out again if marijuana legalization were on the ballot. “If you are 18 to 29, it’s far and away the most compelling reason to go out and vote,” Mr. Myers said.

Blair Butterworth, a Democratic consultant in Washington state who works with legalization advocates, estimated a pot ballot measure could drive up youth turnout by two to four percentage points—enough to influence a tight race. “It’s not like a home run. But with elections being so close these days, it’s a big difference,” he said.

The PPP poll (PDF) found that people age 18-29 favor Democrats over Republicans on the generic ballot by a margin of 62% to 18%. It’s ironic that both Boxer and Brown will benefit from higher youth turnout for Prop 19, considering the fact that both have come out against the measure, and Diane Feinstein is demagoguing pot brownies as the co-chair of the No on 19 campaign.

But on November 3, if people on both sides of the aisle see that young voters will turn out for weed, the issue has the ability to seriously impact the 2012 political landscape. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson has been barnstorming marijuana festivals across the country with an emphatic pro-legalization message, and most think he will announce his presidential candidacy for 2012 soon.

As Chris Good says in the Atlantic, this could pose problems for Barack Obama. Nine former DEA chiefs recently demanded that he oppose Prop 19 if it passes:

One can…envision a coalition of younger and marginalized voters being disappointed in Obama if Prop. 19 passes and he decides to sue. Call them the Shepard Fairey coalition. In 2008, Obama was cool among this crowd; if he attacks Prop. 19, a lot of that mojo will disappear. Being seen as a buzzkill never helped any politician among young and disaffected voters, much less Obama, who rode their support to victory.

Obama is already losing support among Hispanics over the failure to bring up immigration reform. He can’t lose the youth vote too.

Forget about the Tea Party — 2012 could be all about the Pot Party.
Just Say Now is running phone banks into California, Arizona, South Dakota and Oregon in support of marijuana ballot initiatives. You can sign up here.