By taking on student debt, Obama spoke to middle-class America and also targeted a growing economic burden that could hamper the national recovery.
While leaning on Republicans in Congress to act, he also sought to energize the young people essential to his campaign — those who voted for him last time and the many more who have turned voting age since then. Obama urged students to go to social media sites like Twitter to pressure their lawmakers to prevent the interest rates on the loans "from shooting up and shaking you down."
He also spoke to college journalists on a conference call from Air Force One, reiterating many of the same points he made in his address at Chapel Hill.
The blurring between Obama's official and campaign events emerged here in Tar Heel country, with Obama encouraging students to give him an "Amen" at times (they did) and the crowd also giving him an unsolicited chant of "Four more years!" On a blue-sky, breezy day, Obama soaked in the youth vibe on campus, where he also appeared in a taping of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."
With Romney seemingly assured of sweeping the five Republican presidential primaries being held Tuesday, the former Massachusetts governor planned a focus on the general election with a speech in New Hampshire titled "A Better America Begins Tonight."
Ahead of the speech, Romney supporters said Obama's policies had hurt younger voters and questioned whether the president could garner the same amount of support as in 2008.
"Young people are sitting here three and a half years later and they're not better off," said Alex Schriver, chairman of the College Republican National Committee.
The president was also speaking Tuesday at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and then at the University of Iowa on Wednesday. All three schools are in states that Obama carried in 2008, and all three states are considered among the several that could swing to Obama or Romney and help decide a close 2012 election.
The president spoke Tuesday night to another boisterously supportive young crowd at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and was heading to the University of Iowa on Wednesday. All three schools are in states that Obama carried in 2008, and all three states are considered among the several that could swing to Obama or Romney and help decide a close 2012 election.
Before his speech on the Colorado campus, Obama went after students in a likely place to find them — a bar. He stopped in Boulder at "The Sink," shaking hands with young people enjoying beers and burgers. One woman said she wanted to start a restaurant based on cheese fries. "Sounds good," he said. Another woman accidentally spilled yogurt on Obama and a Secret Service agent, much to her embarrassment.
Obama carried voters between the ages of 18-29 by a margin of about 2-to-1 in 2008, but many recent college graduates have had difficulty finding jobs. That raises concerns for the president about whether they will vote and volunteer for him in such large numbers again.
Without mentioning her by name in his Chapel Hill speech, Obama cited North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, quoting her from a recent radio interview with G. Gordon Liddy in which she said, "I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt."
Obama said allowing the interest rates to double this summer would hurt more than 7 million students, costing the average student $1,000 and amounting to a "tax hike" for those students and their families.
"Anybody here can afford to pay an extra thousand dollars right now?" Obama asked to jeers from the crowd. "I don't think so."
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