President Obama spent Wednesday trying to grab a few headlines of his own by sharpening his attacks against GOP rival Mitt Romney during the middle of the Republican convention and appealing to young people on college campuses to get behind his campaign again.
Incumbent presidents traditionally keep a low profile during the opposing party’s convention, but the president and first lady have a busy schedule of public events this week, with Mr. Obama campaigning and Michelle Obama making an appearance on the late-night David Letterman show Wednesday.
On the second-day of his counter-GOP convention tour, Mr. Obama headed to Charlottesville, Va., home to the University of Virginia and thousands of students and young people. It’s a town the president must capture if he hopes to hold onto the state he won in 2008, the first time in 44 years a Democratic candidate for president has taken Virginia.
Mr. Obama seemed well aware of the critical role the college town will play in November, telling the crowd several times just how much he needs them to register to vote and get out and knock on doors to help reignite the grass-roots energy and enthusiasm that propelled him to victory in 2008.
“The point is: Your voice mattered, your voice made a difference,” he said. “So you can’t get tired now because we have more work to do and in November your voice will matter more than ever.”
The president’s crowds are still smaller than they were in 2008 at this time in the campaign, but in the last week they’ve started to grow. A campaign official passed on an estimate of the crowd in Charlottesville at 7,500.
Polls show Mr. Obama still leading rival Mitt Romney with college-age voters, but that lead also has dwindled since 2008.
The president faces the extra challenge of trying to convince young people of his economic credentials as they prepare to enter a shaky job market, with Mr. Romney arguing that the president has not lived up to his promises on job creation.
During stops at colleges in Iowa and Colorado on Tuesday and in Virginia on Wednesday, the president focused on issues he thought might play well with the college crowd — clean energy, lower costs for student loans, health care, women’s issues, gay marriage, and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Charlottesville, he also honed his attack lines against Mr. Romney, telling the crowd that because Mr. Romney has vowed to repeal the president’s 2010 health care overhaul the first day of his presidency, Mr. Romney would kick young people off their parents’ health plan.
“He calls my plan ‘Obamacare’ — I call his plan ‘Romney-doesn’t-care,’ ” Mr. Obama told the crowd, which roared its approval.
While the president’s 2010 health care law was popular in Democratic strongholds like Charlottesville, it was so unpopular in other areas of the state that three Democratic members of Congress, including Tom Perriello, who sailed to election on Mr. Obama’s coattails in 2008, lost their seats in 2010.
“The health care law was extremely unpopular in the state — still is, as a matter of fact,” said Chris LaCivita, a veteran Republican campaign operative who has run numerous races in the state. “Tom Perriello was basically Obama’s ‘Mini-Me’ in that part of the state, and he was defeated.”
Mrs. Obama on Wednesday will conduct a triple-header of visits to TV shows in New York.
She is set to appear on CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” — her third appearance on his show. She will also film appearances on “The Dr. Oz Show” and “Rachael Ray,” for segments that will air in September.
The White House said Mrs. Obama’s television blitz is “part of a back-to-school tour to discuss improvements to the federal guidelines for school lunches that go into effect this school year, and updates to the Presidential Youth Fitness Program.”