FORT COLLINS, Colo. — President Obama hit the road Tuesday to compete for media time with the Republican convention, courting young voters with a two-day tour of college campuses in Iowa, Colorado and Virginia.
In the two months before voters go to the polls to decide whether to give Mr. Obama a second term, the president is trying to reignite the electricity of his 2008 campaign, and aides view college campuses as friendly territory — both to register new voters and recruit volunteers to knock on doors and help get out the vote.
During a trip to Iowa State University in Ames on Tuesday, Mr. Obama called on the students and young people gathered there to re-create the youth movement that helped propel him to the White House in 2008.
“I am asking you to do what young people did four years ago. I’m asking you to believe,” he said to a crowd of 6,000 students who had recently returned for fall classes. “We’ve come too far to turn back now. We have more work to do.”
Polls shows Mr. Obama still leading Republican rival Mitt Romney with college-age voters, but the president faces the added challenge this year of trying to convince young people he is the right steward for the economy as they prepare to enter a weaker-than-expected job market and Mr. Romney says the president has not lived up to his promises on job creation.
Striving to overcome the shaky economic outlook, Mr. Obama hewed to themes expected to appeal to younger voters, including lower costs for student loans, women’s contraception, gay marriage, the end of the Afghanistan War, and commitment to his 2010 health care law that allows people younger than 26 to remain on their parents’ health care plans.
The president specifically took credit for expanding college tax credits, which he says saved families up to $10,000 over four years, doubling grant aid for millions of students, and preventing student loan rates from doubling at the end of the year, a policy both Republicans and Democrats in Congress supported and passed earlier this year.
Clearly sharpening his attack lines, Mr. Obama also launched a direct assault on the way Mr. Romney’s vision for the country would affect young voters, arguing that the former Massachusetts governor hopes youths will get discouraged and stay home in November and telling the crowd that Mr. Romney once called their age group “the lost generation.”
“But you can’t believe it,” he said. “Don’t believe them when they tell you you can’t make a difference.”
Because Mr. Romney has vowed to repeal the president’s 2010 health care overhaul the first day of his presidency, Mr. Obama told the crowd Mr. Romney would “kick you off your parents’ plan” and said he has come to like the term “Obamacare,” often used by critics as a pejorative.
“Because I really do care,” he said. “Maybe we should call his plan ‘Romney doesn’t care.’ [The health care law] is here to stay. Now is the time to go ahead and move forward.”
Mr. Obama was scheduled to give a speech at Colorado State University in Fort Collins on Tuesday evening, then head Wednesday afternoon to Charlottesville for a college rally at the University of Virginia.
With polls showing the race tightening, especially in battleground states, the Romney campaign accused Mr. Obama of launching a string of reckless attacks while breaking a three-decade precedent of not campaigning during the opposing party’s convention.
“Today, with the Republican National Convention underway, President Obama’s campaign is going off the rails with reprehensible attacks and reckless charges against Gov. Romney,” Romney senior adviser Danny Diaz said.
“With a growing number of Americans, including nearly 3 in 10 Democrats, believing President Obama has no plan to create jobs, it’s clear his campaign cannot defend the president’s abysmal record of lost jobs, higher poverty rates and middle-class suffering.”