As college students return to campus, President Barack Obama’s campaign will be there waiting for them.
Obama aides sees college campuses as fertile ground for registering and recruiting some of the more than 15 million young people who have become eligible to vote since the 2008 election.
As Republicans hold their party convention in Florida this week, the president will make a personal appeal to college voters in three university towns: Ames, Iowa; Fort Collins, Colo.; and Charlottesville, Va.
Obama’s victory four years ago was propelled in part by his overwhelming support among college-aged voters, and polls show him leading Republican rival Mitt Romney with that group in this year’s race.
But the president faces an undeniable challenge as he seeks to convince young people that he is the right steward for the economy as they eye a shaky postgraduation job market.
Seeking to overcome that economic uncertainty, Obama’s campus staffers and volunteers are touting the president’s positions on social issues, like gay rights, that garner significant support among young people. Obama has stressed his effort to freeze the interest rates on new federal student loans, a pitch he personalizes by reminding voters that he and the first lady were once buried under a “mountain” of student loan debt after law school.
They also see a fresh opportunity to court students—and their parents—following Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan as his running mate. Democrats say Ryan’s budget would cut funding for Pell Grants, the federal need-based program for students, and Obama’s campaign is running television advertisements in battleground states trying to link Romney to that plan.
Campaigning last week at Capital University in Ohio, Obama told students that Romney’s economic plan “makes one thing clear: He does not think investing in your future is worth it. He doesn’t think that’s a good investment. I do.”
Obama spoke Aug. 28 at Iowa State University and Colorado State University. The University of Virginia rejected his campaign’s request to hold an event on campus Aug. 29, saying it would cause the cancellation or disruption of classes on the second day of the semester. The event was instead being held at an off-campus pavilion in Charlottesville.
Romney’s campaign sees an opportunity to cut into the president’s support among young people by pushing a three-pronged economic argument focusing on the nation’s high unemployment rate, the soaring cost of college and the national debt.
“These kids haven’t even entered the workforce and they already owe the government a bill for the debt Obama has rung up,” said Joshua Baca, the Romney campaign’s national coalitions director.
Obama campaign officials say the start of the new school year is a particularly crucial time to ramp up college registration and make sure those new voters get to the polls.