“College education is one of the best investments America can make for our future,” Obama said in Chapel Hill. “This is important for all of us. We can’t price most Americans out of a college education. We can’t make higher education a luxury. It’s an economic imperative. Every American should be able to afford it. So that’s why I’m here.”
Obama and the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, now agree that student loan rates should remain low. Both are, not coincidentally, also ferociously courting young voters, who turned out overwhelmingly for Obama four years ago but are less enthusiastic about politics, and more worried about their futures, today.
Romney weighed in on the college issue Monday, and his campaign hosted a conference call with surrogates Tuesday to decry how the president has “failed” young Americans — revealing how important his campaign believes the youth vote will be now that the general election is underway.
Still, the hero’s welcome Obama received in Chapel Hill and Boulder on Tuesday — crowds shouted “Amen!” and chanted “Four more years!” — illustrated how powerful the president’s advantage remains among young voters. The events had the feel of campaign rallies, although they were labeled official White House events (and paid for by taxpayers). In Chapel Hill, the president also taped an appearance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” whose audience skews young.
Obama’s challenge is not so much winning these voters; he won among 18-to-29-year-olds in 2008 by a 34-point margin, and most polls predict he will win the group again easily this year. Rather, it is to draw out as many of them as possible on Election Day. This is especially true in competitive states such as North Carolina, which the president won with a razor-thin margin of roughly 14,000 votes four years ago.
On Monday, senior White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to be candid, confirmed as much, noting that a key goal of the president’s reelection effort is to register as many new young voters — those between the ages of 18 and 21 who were too young to vote in 2008 — as they can.
Romney’s comments Monday partly neutralized the contrast between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of student loans — except when it comes to paying for the initiative, which is expected to cost $6 billion.
Romney’s embrace of the idea is at odds with some of his pronouncements earlier in the Republican nomination contest, when he said, for instance, that the government should not be spending more money to help pay for college. Romney also has not addressed the issue of how to pay for keeping loan rates low.