April 25 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama hit college campuses and late night television to urge Congress to freeze student-loan interest rates as he engaged Republican Mitt Romney in a competition for young voters.
Obama and Romney tailored their economic message to attract college-age voters in what both sides say will be a close election in November as graduates face a weak job market and a ballooning debt load from education loans.
"I've been in your shoes, I know what I'm talking about," Obama told students last night at the University of Colorado at Boulder, his second stop on a trip through three electoral battleground states. The president said that he and first lady Michelle Obama carried student debt until about eight years ago. "We've got to make college more affordable for you," he said.
Romney, who declared himself the Republican presidential nominee last night after sweeping five primary contests, has agreed with Obama on stopping the rise in student-loan rates while blaming the administration for an economy in which "50 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed."
Voters age 18 to 29 were a key constituency for Obama in the 2008 election, with national exit polls showing he received 66 percent of their vote. He holds a 17 percentage point lead over Romney among those voters in the current campaign, according to an online survey by Harvard University's Institute of Politics.
Support for Obama
Forty-three percent preferred Obama with 26 percent backing Romney, according to the survey conducted from March 23 through April 9, with 30 percent saying they are undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.
Between speeches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and in Boulder, Obama, 50, taped an appearance on NBC's "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" to emphasize his message. Today he'll talk to an audience at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Coinciding with the trip to the three campuses, Rolling Stone magazine put the president on its cover and published an interview with Obama.
'Out of the Mainstream'
Obama told the publication that Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail have moved "far out of the mainstream" of voters, and that will provide a "sharp" contrast for the general election. Reflecting his broader campaign strategy, Obama indicated he would seek to paint Romney as extreme on issues such as regulation, immigration and the budget that played prominently in the primary campaign.
"I don't think that their nominee is going to be able to suddenly say, 'Everything I've said for the last six months, I didn't mean,'" Obama said in Rolling Stone. "I'm assuming that he meant it."
Romney's campaign went on the offensive before Obama left Washington yesterday morning.
"Four years ago, the president was able to fool a number of our college students into supporting his campaign and the result has been the highest level of unemployment for youth in our country's recorded history," Hank Brown, a former Republican U.S. senator who also served as president of the University of Colorado, said on a conference call organized by the campaign.
Brown predicted a "dramatic turnaround" on college campuses with larger numbers voting for Republican candidates, including Romney, who he said is "younger and more dynamic" than the party's 2008 nominee, Senator John McCain, who was 72 at the time of the election. Romney is 65.