BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – President Barack Obama’s latest trip to Ohio wasn’t just about getting his message across. He wanted to make sure college students and 20-somethings are going to vote in big numbers, just like four years ago when they backed him by a wide margin.
Students skipped classes and stood in a long line through intermittent rain outside the basketball arena at Bowling Green State University on Wednesday where Obama told them to register to vote.
“No excuses,” he said before heading to Kent State University for another rally.
A big part of Obama’s strategy in Ohio and other key swing states is reaching out college students who are concerned about the rising costs of education, job opportunities and paying off student loans.
Obama kicked off his re-election campaign with a rally in May at Ohio State University. In recent months, he’s been at Capital University in Columbus and Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland.
His campus tour across northern Ohio on Wednesday generated a buzz at Bowling Green.
“It’s definitely raising awareness,” said Becca Schroeder, a freshman from Ottawa. “People my age need a reason to vote;
otherwise they’ll be too lazy and let it pass by.”
The president’s trip back to Ohio comes as the Republican ticket wraps up a three-day bus tour of the state. GOP challenger Mitt Romney campaigned in suburban Columbus and Cleveland on Wednesday before a stop later in the day in Toledo.
A big crowd at Bowling Green shouted jeers when Obama said Romney’s economic plan was centered on cutting taxes for the rich.
“Don’t boo,” Obama said. “Vote.”
Most recent polls show Obama with a lead over Romney in Ohio, a state considered a must-win for both. Obama held a 53 percent to 43 percent lead over Romney in a CBS/New York Times poll released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University.
Michael Zickar, chairman of both the psychology department at Bowling Green State University and the Wood County Democratic Party, acknowledged that there was little excitement for Obama on campus up until the last few months.
Now the president’s campaign is more visible on campus than it was four years ago and has more volunteers signing up students to vote, Zickar said.
Whether the students know how much they could sway the election isn’t clear, Zickar said. “The campaign certainly knows that,” he said.
Royce Ector, a junior at Bowling Green from Detroit, said Obama volunteers on campus ask Ector three or four times a day whether he’s registered to vote.
Obama wants to make tax credits for college expenses permanent and expand Pell grants for students from lower-earning families.
Romney counters that increasing federal student aid encourages tuition to go up and wants private lenders to return to the federal student loan program. He proposes eliminating duplicative federal college financial aid programs and giving Pell Grants to “students that need them most.”
Obama won two-thirds of the vote four years ago among college-age adults 18-24 and 18-29 years old, according to exit polling. In Ohio, young voters went more heavily Democratic than in any election since at least 1992.
But there are questions about whether young people are enthusiastic this time around and will turn out for Obama like they did in 2008.
Josh Prest, a 21-year-old political science major and former head of college Republicans at Youngstown State University, said he saw more political intensity two years ago during the Ohio governor’s race.
Why? “I don’t think anyone’s happy with either of the two candidates,” he said. “I know I’m not.”
Julie DeArmond, a Bowling Green senior, voted for Obama four years ago, but she’s not sure if he’ll get her vote this time
“There’s a lot of things he said he would do, and I’m not sure he’s done them,” she said.
Some students were encouraged by their professors to see Obama, the first sitting president to visit the Bowling Green campus since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
DeArmond got extra credit for being at the rally. “It’s an incentive,” she said.
Sheeran reported from Cleveland.