BOULDER, Colo. (AP) – President Barack Obama became the first president in more than 50 years to visit the University of Colorado at Boulder on Tuesday.
But if he seemed at ease hitting a downtown bar and firing up thousands of students, there was a reason — his official visit sounded like a campaign rally, and he’s been here before.
The president mugged for a student picture on the social networking site Instagram, shook hands at The Sink — a campus watering hole — and joked with a student about starting a restaurant that sells only cheesy fries. In other words, Obama seemed in full campaign stride before settling in for his second of three college visits to talk about lower-cost student loans.
As he told Colorado college students at a Denver campus last fall, Obama said he understands student-loan debt because he’s had to pay it off himself. He assured a packed house of about 11,000 that they’re borrowing not because they’re lazy, but because they want a better future, and that public officials should help young people afford college.
“We need to be investing in things that build America over the long term, things like education, and science,” Obama said to loud cheers. Obama made a similar speech earlier Tuesday in Chapel Hill, N.C., and planned another Wednesday to college students in Iowa. All three states chose Obama four years ago, in part because of heavy support among young voters.
If Obama hopes to keep Colorado’s nine electoral votes in his column this November, he needs college-age voters to stick with him. And despite Obama’s popularity among college students, whom polls indicate largely support him, the president also faces a population of voters sour on their prospects after graduation and fearing the worst.
Young Americans have suffered bigger income losses than other age groups and are less likely to be employed than at any time since World War II, according to a February analysis by the Pew Research Center. Even young Democratic activists aren’t feeling upbeat.
“The president is in charge, and he’s a Democrat, so right there, there’s less enthusiasm for the Democratic Party,” said Kourtney Jones, a 21-year-old Colorado State University student from Fort Collins. She’s a political science major who remembers a campus engulfed in Obama fever when she was a freshman. Now in her final year, Jones said the campus mood is more subdued.
“He’s amazing at hitting 19-year-olds,” Jones said of Obama. “But before it was `Change’ and `Let’s change it.’ Now it’s, `What exactly has changed?”‘
Political scientists accustomed to seeing how college-age voters perceive politicians have noticed the reduced enthusiasm, but they’re not sure yet how much Obama needs to worry.
University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket pointed out that in the spring of 2008, students active in politics were buzzing about the Democratic primary contest between Obama and now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This time around, Masket said, Obama had no primary competition, so the kinds of students most interested in politics, those who quit school for a semester to go work for political campaigns, are more likely Republicans.
However, Masket added that young voters aren’t entirely different from older voters.
“To the extent young people aren’t as wild about Obama as they were four years ago, well, the nation as a whole is not as excited about Obama as they were four years ago,” Masket said.
Obama became the first sitting president since former President Dwight Eisenhower to visit the Boulder campus. Obama also visited the University of Colorado four years ago on a campaign trip — before he was president.
By KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press
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