Trying to rally disillusioned supporters of four years ago, President Obama pleaded with young voters Tuesday to come back to his side by warning them that rival Mitt Romney “does not think investing in your future is worth it.”
As with his argument for seniors on Medicare, the president promoted his re-election bid Tuesday as offering more government benefits — in this case for college-age voters — than the Republicans.
It’s a theme that Mr. Obama has been hammering home with key voting blocs ever since Mr. Romney tapped Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, architect of the House Republican budget, as his running mate.
“Gov. Romney makes his time as an investor in the private sector the basis of his candidacy,” Mr. Obama said at a university in Ohio as he sought to counter the Republican’s promises to young voters of a better economy. “His economic plan makes one thing clear: He does not think investing in your future is worth it. He doesn’t think that’s a good investment. I do.”
The president characterized Mr. Romney as someone who doesn’t care about making college more affordable for middle-class families.
He ridiculed his wealthy opponent for telling an audience in Ohio several months ago that students could pay for college by borrowing money from their parents if necessary.
“Not everybody has parents who have the money to lend,” Mr. Obama said. “That may be news to some folks, but it’s the truth. What Gov. Romney is offering is not an answer. Putting a college education within reach for working families doesn’t seem to be a big priority for my opponent.”
The president’s visits to college campuses in Ohio and later in Reno, Nev., underscore one of the difficulties confronting his re-election bid. Four years ago, Mr. Obama won the presidency with a big assist from young voters. This time, many of those voters have graduated from college and are unable to find jobs.
Polls show that voters younger than 30 still favor Mr. Obama over Mr. Romney by large margins, but the surveys also find that young voters say they are less likely to vote in November than they were four years ago.
Since Mr. Romney chose Mr. Ryan as his running mate, the Obama campaign has been trying to warn voters about the impact of Mr. Ryan’s budget plan on Medicare. Now the Democrats are turning to education, launching radio ads in New Hampshire warning that 21,000 college students in that state would have their Pell Grants cut by $800 each. A similar ad in Ohio tells voters that 356,000 students would have their Pell Grants cut.
Those figures assume that cuts in Mr. Ryan’s proposed budget would be applied across the board in 2014, although his budget does not directly address Pell Grants.
The Romney campaign said Mr. Obama is trying to distract voters’ attention from his own failed education policies.
“Under this president, too many young Americans are suffering from higher college costs, more debt, and a lack of good jobs when they graduate,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement. “Today’s policies are just more of the same from a president who hasn’t fixed the economy or kept his promises to the young people who supported him four years ago. The Romney-Ryan plan will deliver 12 million new jobs to help recent graduates — and all Americans — enjoy a more prosperous future.”
Some analysts say the signs of disillusionment among younger Obama supporters could be especially important in battleground states such as Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia.
Mr. Obama used part of his speech in Ohio to urge young people to register to vote. He also challenged them by saying Republicans were betting that wealthy campaign donors would defeat the power of the youth vote.
“They’ve got folks writing $10 million checks, $20 million checks,” Mr. Obama said. “They should be contributing that to a scholarship fund to send kids to college. Instead, they are going to spend more money than we have ever seen on ads. They’re betting on the fact that you get so discouraged that you decide your vote doesn’t matter. They’re betting every single $10 million check from a wealthy donor drowns out millions of voices at the ballot box. They say, ‘Obama’s grayer now, he’s not as new and as fresh as he was in 2008, so young people aren’t going to turn out the same way.’ They’re counting on you sitting on the sidelines and letting others make the choice for you.”
The president told students repeatedly, “I need your help.”
The Romney campaign countered with data showing that since Mr. Obama took office, the average cost of in-state tuition at a four-year college has risen 25 percent, from $6,585 to $8,244. Campaign officials defended Mr. Romney’s education record as governor of Massachusetts as that of an innovator.
“Mitt Romney’s education reform plan — developed by a leader with a record of innovation during his term as governor of Massachusetts — will ensure that every American student has access to a world-class education,” Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a statement. “Unlike President Obama, Mitt Romney will provide the choices students need to enroll in good schools, the information parents need to hold districts accountable, and the jobs graduates need to be successful in the global economy.”