GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Three words offered again and again here on the campus of the University of Florida could spell disaster for President Obama's re-election hopes if the young voters are still repeating them in November: "I don't care."
The university, a liberal island in a sea of Republican red, will almost certainly back Obama over Republican Mitt Romney, as will most young voters in the Sunshine State. Recent polls show Obama with a significant lead among voters under age 29, a bloc that favored him 2-to-1 in 2008.
But the president's concern is whether these young voters are excited enough about him to turn out in the large numbers he needs to carry the nation's most populous swing state.
Young voters rallied behind Obama four years ago, excited by his pledge to transform Washington's hateful politics. But Obama is no longer running to be the nation's first black president. He now faces student voters who, after his first term, are dealing with record levels of debt and bleak job prospects and who remain turned off by the unchanged, bitter partisanship.
"The general sense is that most students think both sides are incompetent," Hunter Browning-Smith, a 20-year-old junior, said. "Nobody's excited about either candidate. I know Obama used to have all this support with people my age, but that's not how it is now."
"I don't have a strong opinion" about either candidate, 18-year-old freshman Allie Gerace confessed.
And 20-year-old Intale Shuva added, "Politics right now are pretty depressing."
There is, of course, still support for Obama on campus. Hundreds of students waited in line for tickets to see first lady Michelle Obama speak on Monday, and there are daily voter registration drives and regular phone banks that reach out to young voters.
Yet, interviews with dozens of students and 20-somethings fresh out of school in this college town revealed a prevailing sense of apathy.
"I totally drank the Obama Kool-Aid" in 2008, Nick Carey, 24, said over a beer at a dive bar downtown. "It's not that I think he's a bad guy. He's just another politician. Things haven't really changed at all."
To win over students suffering in a still-bleak economy, Obama is championing lower interest rates on student loans, health care reforms that allow students to remain on their parents' insurance plans longer and same-sex marriage, and he's touting his success in ending two unpopular wars.
Obama holds many of his swing-state rallies in college towns, and the first lady is hosting events here and in nearby Tallahassee, home to Florida State University, on Monday.
"It's a pretty easy decision," said Rachel McGovern, co-chairwoman of Gators for Obama. "Students are overwhelmingly behind the president."
The Romney campaign counters that students overwhelmed by mounting loan debt and facing a tight job market could cross party lines in November. They hope vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, the first member of a presidential ticket born in the 1970s, will resonate with younger voters.
But Obama's aides remain confident that the president will beat Romney among the nation's most fickle voters.
"We're not worried about losing the youngest voters to Republicans," an Obama campaign official told The Washington Examiner. "And that's even more true now -- Romney's not exactly trying very hard to win them over."