President Obama kicks off his “official” re-election campaign Saturday with college rallies in Virginia and Ohio — the latest in a series of events aimed at shoring up flagging support among the coalition of women, minorities and young voters that propelled him to victory in 2008.
With unemployment of people younger than 30 well above the national jobless rate, the president and first lady Michelle Obama will try to rekindle excitement with visits to the campuses of Ohio State University in Columbus and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
Two-thirds of the 18-to-29 age group voted for Mr. Obama in 2008, but signs of an enthusiasm gap are showing this time.
“A number of surveys over the past year indicate their support in that demographic is really lagging,” said Paul Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, a nonprofit devoted to educating and mobilizing the under-30 crowd. “The No. 1 issue is jobs, or the lack of jobs.”
Republican officials were critical of the notion that Mr. Obama is “starting” his campaign this weekend and said he has been making campaign-style appearances in battleground states under the cover of official business for about a year.
“I think we all know he’s been campaigning on the taxpayer’s dime for over a year now,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said.
White House officials say they have followed the rules scrupulously and reimbursed the government for political travel. But Generation Opportunity conducted a study that found administration officials have held more than 240 youth-oriented events at taxpayer expense in the past year on college campuses and other locations across the country, often in battleground states.
Wooing young voters
The events have targeted 18- to 29-year-olds, not just college students, the group said.
“What they’ve tried to do, in our opinion, is tailor their operations across government to make certain their surrogates are dispatched in a targeted and coordinated manner to shore up this particular constituency of 18 to 29, especially college-educated,” said Mr. Conway, who has served in four administrations, most recently under George W. Bush.
Other administrations have used official government travel and expenses to promote policies with a political agenda in mind, but Mr. Conway said the Obama administration is taking it to another level.
“What’s different on this one is the size and scope in going after a specific demographic of voters,” he said. “The American taxpayer has already footed the bill for a yearlong campaign targeted to the 18- to 29-year-olds on at least 130 college campuses.”
The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll reports 45 percent of young people have “a great deal of interest” in this election, down from 63 percent four years ago.
In 2008, Mr. Obama thrilled crowds on the campaign trail with lines like “Now is our time “and “We can change the world.”
But with the national unemployment rate still higher than 8 percent, the president is confronted with defending his own policies in this campaign.