Obama trying to win back wary young voters

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President Obama is visiting three college campuses in as many swing states this week hoping to win over the young voters who helped catapult him to victory in 2008 but who have since lost enthusiasm for the president as student loan debt and unemployment among young adults soar.

Obama will be stopping at universities in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa during the two-day campaign swing beginning Tuesday. He plans to focus on students' ballooning debt while urging Congress to prevent interest rates on certain student loans from doubling in July.

While in North Carolina, Obama will try to appeal to a broader youth audience with his first appearance on NBC's "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."

Obama's trip will mark the president's opening salvo to the under-30 demographic, whose support will be critical for him in November.

Voters under 30 turned out in droves for the "change" and "hope" candidate three years ago, supporting Obama 66 percent to 30 percent over Republican nominee John McCain, according to the Pew Research Center. Overall, voters between the ages of 18 and 29 accounted for nearly a fifth of Obama's supporters in 2008.

Three years later, with unemployment among young people nearly twice the overall national rate, young voters are less enthusiastic about Obama -- and about voting in general, analysts said.

Only 46 percent of those between 18 and 24 plan to vote in November and just 40 percent of them are even registered, according to the Public Religion Research Institute and Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and Public Affairs at Georgetown University.

"Young voters were very excited [in 2008] about voting for a candidate who looked different and sounded different and promised a lot," said Matthew Segal, president of Our Time, a nonpartisan organization that represents the under-30 crowd.

Obama followed through on some of the promises he made to young people, including passing health care reforms that allow children up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents' health plans.

"But ultimately, this election will come down to employment; 1.34 million new graduates will be entering the work force this coming May and June who are going to be unemployed or underemployed," Segal said. "The candidates need to talk about how they are going to get them good jobs now."

Obama's recent focus on ending tax breaks for the wealthy, which Congress shot down last week, "isn't a direct enough argument for a generation that wants to get back to work yesterday," Segal said.

The Obama campaign has been working for some time to rally young voters online through Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and through its Gen44 fundraising group, which enrolls technologically adept people under 40 to raise money for the president's re-election campaign.

"The change we've accomplished over the past three years is only possible because young people played an unprecedented role in 2008," Obama says in a recent video message to Gen44 organizers. "That's why we won in 2008, because we didn't play the same old game with the same old players. That's how we're going to win in 2012."

hpeterson@washingtonexaminer.com

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