Obama Courts the Youth Vote

College aid plan aimed at critical youth vote, but GOP argues its policies work better.

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President Obama's initiatives on education, which he is promoting during his current bus tour of New York and Pennsylvania, have triggered another round of political warfare for the support of young voters, a key part of the electorate.

Obama is touting his ideas for how the federal government can make college more affordable, something he has done many times before. On Thursday, he unveiled some new proposals, including a plan to provide more assistance to students at colleges that not only offer a good education but also provide "good value."

He wants the federal government to come up with financial aid criteria based on new standards for colleges such as keeping costs as low as possible, minimizing tuition, and providing financial aid to students from low-income families. "We've got a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt," Obama said at the University of Buffalo.

[READ: Obama Wants to Tie College Financial Aid to Performance]

He said his plans would "shake up the current system, create better incentives for colleges to do more with less, and deliver better value for students and their families." Much of what is proposed would require congressional approval before it could be implemented, and that approval is considered unlikely.

President Barack Obama speaks at the University at Buffalo on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, in Buffalo, N.Y., where he began his two day bus tour to talk about college financial aid.
President Barack Obama speaks at the University at Buffalo on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, in Buffalo, N.Y., where he began his two day bus tour to talk about college financial aid.
 

One flashpoint is Obama's proposal to have the government create a rating system for federal financial aid based on "metrics" that define what makes a college more affordable. Many conservatives say that would mean too much government intervention in education.

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The Republican National Committee blasted Obama for making big promises but leaving college students in the lurch. "Amid questions of his waning influence, President Obama is kicking off his Lame Duck Bus Tour doing what he does best--giving another speech with no record to show for it," said RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski in an email to reporters. "Obama's record with youth is wrought with failures from college costs to student loan debt, and his economy has made it difficult for young Americans to prosper."

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told reporters in a conference call that Obama is "obsessed" with "pageantry and staging" and added: "More campaigning isn't going to change the fact that the Obama presidency and Democratic policies have made life harder for young Americans." The Republicans say young people are having a difficult time finding jobs in part because of excessive federal regulations on business and the burdens imposed by Obama's health care law.

Obama won the support of more than 60 percent of voters under age 30 in the 2012 election, a key reason for his solid re-election victory. The Republicans were deeply frustrated by this result, since they argued that young people really hadn't done very well under Obama. One problem was that Republican nominee Mitt Romney wasn't very appealing to young people and never sold himself as a realistic alternative to Obama.

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The RNC is now aggressively making the case that conservative policies are better for young people than liberal policies, in an effort to improve the party's showing in the midterm elections of 2014 and beyond.

The unemployment rate for young people in July was estimated at 16.3 percent compared with an overall jobless rate of 7.4 percent nationally, according to the federal government.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.